Brain Exercise.

As many of you know, I love science, specifically biology. A branch of that interest is in cognitive science, or how the brain works. I find that reading about cognition helps me understand how to be not only a better dancer, but also a better human.

I recently started reading The Body Has a Mind of Its Own: How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee. There’s SO much good stuff in this book about how the brain perceives the body and the immediate world around it, and much of it can apply to learning dance. The authors also explain how visualizing body movements can help you execute the actual body movements better than if you had never visualized that movement before.

One of the most striking findings presented in the book is this (my notes in brackets):

Pascual-Leone [a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School] found that the level of performance after five days of motor imagery [visualizing the movement] was equivalent to three days of physical practice. But when he added one day of physical practice to five days of motor imagery, his subjects were as good as those who practiced only physically for five full days. This means motor imagery can give you a distinct advantage in your training. You can be better with less rather than more physical practice.

I’ve totally found this to be true in my own practice of dance. I urge you to try it too.


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Ok, that book is going on my list. This is something of interest to me as well, sparked by the Creating Passionate Users blog, and a link to a PBS store on mirror neurons. I posted something in Tribe a while ago that I’m reposting here (because it is late and it’s been a while. Mainly, I want the link.)

Frankly, I think this finding also supports the owning and multiple watchings of dance dvds.
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The new understanding of mirror neurons brings this all into a little more focus. In essence, just by watching dance, you can make connections clearer in your head. There’s a study that says that watching something stimulates the same neurons as DOING that something. This is how injured dancers are able to “practice” with their minds – by steadfastly going through positions, etc.




    Speaking of mirror neurons… Towards the end of the book, the authors go into just HOW powerful mirror neurons are! I’m reading that part now, and wow… just incredible.

    Thanks for posting the link to the NOVA article… I’m going to check that out right now. 😀 (The authors of The Body Has a Mind of Its Own cite this capoeira/ballet study on the PBS page!)

    In fact, I think I’ll put that link and maybe some others as I find them in a new post. Sometimes really useful and interesting things can get lost in the comments.

    Science and dance nerds unite!




Thanks for this post Asharah. I have to admit, I do this *every single night* – yup, I lie there visualising my practice for about 20 minutes before I sleep. I do think it makes a lot of difference, even though everyone else thinks I’m just obsessive. Cheers from NZ!




Oh, yes! I like to listen to our music a lot while driving because I can sort of put my back brain attention on it and will imagine how I’d dance to it. It not only helps me learn the music, the changes and moves that can go in certain parts, I think it really helps me figure out transitions. This has also been my approach to choreography. It doesn’t always work for me to put music on and just move to it to see what comes out. Instead I put it on and zone out try to visualize what I think matches the music, and then take it from there.




I can also highly recommend Norman Doidge’s book – The Brain That Changes Itself. It’s packed with fascinating information on brain science.

I’m a musician not a dancer, but I’ve found that even mental training unrelated playing can improve my playing.





    Thanks for the suggestion, Martin! I think that book is on my “to read” list.

    And personally, I think that musicians and dancers have way more in common than we realize. Most of my dancer friends are or have been serious musicians. I’d love to investigate the neurology of dance and music and see how they’re similar or if they engage similar parts of the brain. I did read This Is Your Brain on Music a few months ago, which I found absolutely fascinating. Unfortunately, though, I no longer have the book because I lent it to my mom… hehe…




Finally!! this makes so much sense to me. I’ve always done it, think about movements and dance and when i practice i realize that my technique got better just from thinking about it. I’ve tried to explain it to other people but never knew how. This is so awesome!




sound ssimilar to eric franklins’ philosophy and books. mind over matter, the brain does, even on its own, a whooooole lot more that people sometimes think.




….and i find this uber-true for stuff like level 2 or 3 suhaila drills. they are a mind f””, :) , excuse the term, and if you conquer them with your mind, you are 75% of the way there :)




Yes I find visualisation essential to my dance (or anything physical). In fact I use it as a prep to performance, and only practise physically to reassure myself I’ve “nailed” it.



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