Dyan Branstetter | October 2015
Can Dancing Boost Brainpower?
We all know that dancing promotes better physical health because of its fitness benefits. But Dancing Boost Brain Power also.
We know it’s a beautiful art form allowing individuals to express themselves in ways words cannot. More than that, I believe that dancing boost brain power also.
Last year, I participated in many IEP meetings for students having trouble retaining information, and not making expected growth, even with best practice instruction. Both our school psychologist and principal began noticing a trend in the evaluations school-wide: many of the evaluated students had relatively low working memories. These were students who were having trouble retaining what they had just worked on in a small group the previous day, or who could not seem to master their basic facts, and were not making progress despite our best interventions. During a grade level data meeting, we decided to brainstorm ways to boost students’ working memory. A few great ideas were oldies-but-goodies, such as simply playing the game “Memory”, “Simon” (there’s even an app for that!), and “Bop-It”. All of these are great tools for helping students work on their memory while having fun.
Later that week, I started reflecting about my life as a dancer. It always takes me longer to learn a dance in comparison to learning to sing a song because I can’t read along with a dance to help me memorize it: I just have to remember it. I repeat it over and over until I can remember the choreography.
The Tricks of Practice and Memorization
When learning choreography, I have to listen to the music, watch the choreographer, and internalize the movements. Once I learn the physical movements by copying the choreographer, I “mark” the movements to help me remember them. When a dancer marks a piece, he or she goes through the movements, sometimes replacing steps with gestures, rather than focusing on physical perfection and technique. Sometimes, I listen to the music and “think” the steps in my head, or say them out loud in time to the music.
This takes a great deal of concentration. If my mind drifts, I lose my place in the music and have to begin again. (This is also a great way to help students practice the skill of concentrating while building stamina and endurance for thinking!) Only after repetition, when the cognitive aspect of the dance is mastered, is a dancer able to focus on proper technique and artistic expression, that’s how dancing boost brain power.
When I took ballet lessons as a child, I was trained in the Cecchetti technique. As an adult, I don’t take classes regularly anymore, but when I have the chance to dance I still retain the technique. Through the Cecchetti method, dancers repeat the same barre and center exercises each week until they pass a level, usually moving to the next level each year. Cecchetti’s method allows dancers to learn his set patterns so well that they do not have to think about what comes next. “With consecutive movements deep in their muscle memory, they were free to concentrate on quality, artistry, and musicality.” (http://www.dancestudiolife.com/ballet-scene-class-a-la-cecchetti/) If we help students build that “concentration muscle”, they should be able to access it when presented with a task that requires mental stamina.
How can dancing boost brain power be applied to a regular classroom?
Simply having students learn a few consecutive motions is a good start. (Bonus points if they connect to content that you’re teaching!) Learning any choreography is a great brain workout. If you’re not comfortable leading students in movements, find some instructional YouTube videos, or invite a guest artist to work with your students. Even clapping rhythms, turning, and walking (line dancing anyone?) will work those memory muscles.
In addition to dancing boost brain power and the memory benefits of dance, think of the increased blood flow that will help with focus, as well as the chance to move and get the wiggles out. A true “brain break” with meaning! For those of you thinking, “I’d love to do this, but it will take too long to get their attention back to learning,” try having students move back to their seats silently in slow motion. The control required to slow down their bodies has a calming effect, and students will be ready and refreshed for your next lesson. What are you waiting for? Get up and move!
Here are a few of my favorites links for learning dance combinations with my 3rd graders:
Broadway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSEUR2gZUFc (long intro)
Tap Dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWuz3oE7xjk
Compass Slide: (Cardinal directions to the Cha-Cha Slide) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nw07DjfQ48g