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  • Writer's pictureMichi Barber

Dance and Brain Health Part 2: Cerebral Cortex

In the previous installment of our three part series on the dancer’s brain, we learned about the cerebellum, or lower brain. Today we are going to dive in to the higher brain, or cerebral cortex.

The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that handles the “higher” functions such as logic, mathematics, problem solving, and generally creating the order necessary for success in a highly complex modern world.

As your child progresses into more advanced dance curriculums, she is not only continuing to strengthen the parts of the brain involved in gross and fine motor skills, but increasingly the cerebral cortex is being stimulated. Much research has been done on the beneficial effects on children’s brains from learning to play a musical instrument. In dance, our bodies are our musical instrument!

Coordinating the body to the rhythm of music, spatial reasoning, working through increasingly complex patterns and sequences of steps, and memorizing choreography are incredibly rich material for the cerebral cortex. Success in mathematics is boosted by the ability to recognize patterns and sequences, and dance choreography is a wealth of patterns and sequences for young brains.

When you see a young dancer executing a complex sequence of steps, her cerebral cortex is firing a rapid series of calculations: “How much force is needed to complete this turn? I need to land with my left foot in front so I can proceed to the next step. Remember to coordinate the right arm on this step otherwise I’ll be off balance.” A simple combination in class could involve literally hundreds of such complex demands on the cerebral cortex, building a strong network of neural connections.

In the final installment of our series on brain health, we will discuss the many benefits of dance on our limbic system, which is the seat of our emotions. Stay tuned, you won’t want to miss this one!

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