The Brain Loves to Dance

brain

 

Have you ever gone to dance class in a slump, feeling tired and fuzzy minded?  I bet that you did not feel the same way when you left class. (Well perhaps your body felt a bit more tired afterwards.) There is no way to go through a dance class and not use your brain. Every movement, detail, and combination is performed from the brain first, and you need split second speed in order to continuously be in motion. Awareness of your surroundings is also an element which is incredibly important, so you don’t take one of your classmates down by accident.

Over the years that I’ve been dancing, I have definitely felt a certain stigma towards dancers which implies that we are not very smart. However the truth is, some of the smartest people I know happen to be dancers, and I believe this is a result of how much we use our brains before, during, and after dancing. We warm up our bodies, but also our minds too. In order to be fully prepared to begin a class, our brain must be involved and active. Once class begins, our minds are constantly multi-tasking; from remembering the order of steps in combinations, to applying our technique, to synchronizing our movements with the music, maintaining spacial awareness, and performing the movement overall, as well as applying our own individual artistry. There are so many elements of the brain working at once that it is a miracle it does not shut down from overuse!

In scientific terms, the regions of the brain that are stimulated during the process of dancing include: “the motor cortex, somatosensory cortex, basal ganglia, and cerebellum. The motor cortex is involved in the planning, control, and execution of voluntary movement. The somatosensory cortex, located in the mid region of the brain, is responsible for motor control and also plays a role in eye-hand coordination. The basal ganglia, a group of structures deep in the brain, work with other brain regions to smoothly coordinate movement, while the cerebellum integrates input from the brain and spinal cord and helps in the planning of fine and complex motor actions”(Edwards, par 4). Isn’t that fascinating? We are consciously aware that we are working all of the muscles, tendons, and joints of our extremities throughout class, as we can feel them working during each and every movement, but we tend to forget that so many parts of our brain are working as well.

In recent scientific studies regarding neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease, dance has been found to significantly reduce the effects these diseases can have on the brain. An increase of intelligence can help to rectify such effects, and help improve mental acuity.  Since “intelligence is what we use when we do not already know what to do” (Powers, par 5) activities that require split second rapid fire decisions, such as dancing, allow for this increase to happen. That is why learning new things helps to increase our intelligence, as it assists in creating new neural pathways.

So keep on dancing, because your brain loves it!

~Victoria

 

Sources:

  1. Edwards, Scott. “Dancing and the Brain.” Dancing and the Brain. Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute, n.d. Web. 04 May 2016.
  2. Powers, Richard. “Use It or Lose It: Dancing Makes You Smarter.” Stanford Dance. Stanford, 30 July 2010. Web. 04 May 2016.
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Like Magic to the Body

Poster for a concert
Purchase Cares: A Benefit Concert for Dancers Responding to AIDS

Last night was a magical experience, so let me try and explain why.  There was a benefit concert held at my college for Dancers Responding to Aids. This concert featured dance pieces, musical performances and collaborations of the different arts; all created specifically for the concert, and to raise money for this cause. Overall, the concert and online fundraising prior to the show raised almost $3,000 for the organization! It is a pretty amazing thing when you realize that you can use your art for a good cause, and help to make a difference. That is one of the many reasons I love what I do.

I had the privilege of performing in a piece alongside my entire Senior dance class of 2016 (which consists of 32 dancers). We realized that it was the first time (and also the last since graduation is in 2 weeks) that we had all actually been able to perform together in the same piece. Although we always have technique classes together throughout the week, performing is just such a different and invigorating experience.

The greatest aspect of it, was that we all felt an incredible supportive and loving energy that was spread across that stage as we performed alongside each other. Every single one of us was smiling at one another and really connecting on stage. That is 32 authentic smiles all in one space at the same time. Now I call that powerful. The energy that was in the theater I can only define as the feeling of magic crackling through the air, into our muscles, and our hearts. I hope the audience was able to feel the magic, but I know that 32 unique and amazing dancers sure did.

I just thought I would share this experience while it is still fresh in my memory.

~Victoria

My Creation

For my Senior composition project, I created a piece based off of those wonderful but horrible, pesky but invigorating, butterflies that you feel whenever you are around someone that you like or are attracted to. My piece evolved and made a journey from this original concept to the final product, incorporating the idea of staying true to yourself while also encompassing the different worlds of dream and reality along the way.

It took a good amount of time for this work to morph into the final product, and up until the day of the performance there were still changes that I was debating whether or not I should make. However, it is a work that I am proud of- which is unusual for me. I normally am extremely critical of my own choreography and do not always feel positively about the end result, but in this case I did. It also didn’t hurt that I had the best cast of dancers to work with. So, here it is below. I hope you enjoy!

 

~Victoria

Ten Things to Take Away

 

Vegetables in ballet positions
1-2-3-4-5…

The top ten things that I have learned, journeying through the past four years in a college dance conservatory.

1: Be YOURSELF:

I know it’s cliche, and everyone gives that advice, and you don’t believe it and you do not want to believe it cause you may think you are a little weird or different and you think you won’t fit in if you don’t act like “everyone else”- but that is a journey down a spiraling, yellow slide with bumps and corners that you don’t expect to find, and then don’t know how to handle if you are trying to be like someone else. Guaranteed, it will become easier to find friends and feel comfortable if you stay true to yourself. Pretending or convincing yourself otherwise is only fun for oh so long. Even if you are a naturally quiet person (like me) you can still find your own way more easily if you just embrace that is how you are.  You are you. Stay true to yourself and don’t let others waver your beliefs. College is a place to learn and grow into the adult you will be. Become someone that you are proud of.

2: You don’t always have to follow the rules:

As a wee little Freshman, I was still caught up in being a good student. Never missing a class even if I was feeling really sick, always on time, staying up all night to finish an assignment to the nearest level of perfection if need be, and not questioning what my teachers told me. –But now, four years later, I realize that all of these things were not all that was important. I’m not saying that I no longer do my homework or  go to class, because I certainly do. I still care about good grades and learning because that is just ingrained in me, however sometimes your health or state of mind and taking care of your body is more important. Especially as dancers, if we abuse our bodies and don’t get enough rest eventually they will retaliate and become injured. So, taking care of yourself is important, even if that means missing a class. It is not the end of the world and in the end only you know how much you can handle and how to best take care of yourself.

3: It is not a CrImE to have fun:

Over the years I have realized that you’ve got to make some time for fun. Otherwise, life is just stress + work + classes+ stress… and everything piles up onto you until you suddenly combust (a.k.a. bursting into tears). Going out on the weekend is not actually a crime, nor will it turn you into a careless or irresponsible person. Hanging out with friends and meeting new people is all part of the college experience and environment that you won’t easily find the same way later in life. You have to appreciate the network of students that surrounds you while you are immersed within it.

4: Being injured is not (really) the end of the world:

Towards the beginning of my Senior year I ended up dislocating me knee in Graham class and sitting out of classes for four weeks. At first hearing the words “no dancing” literally felt like the end of the world, and during the process of no dancing I became super antsy watching my classmates working each day and not being able to join them. However, I did come to realize that there is quite a learning opportunity to take away from observing in technique classes. I can only recall one prior time that I had observed one of my classes due to feeling ill, so I never really experienced how great a tool observation in class was. In addition, I became so inspired watching my classmates dance that when I was able to participate again, I was super motivated and eager to utilize the elements I had observed.

5: Smile at everyone:

A simple smile can make a person’s day. Whether you have ever met the person before or interacted with them, smiling at them will never cause any harm. It shows how negative the world is in general when people respond to a smile by giving me a strange look, as if nobody has ever randomly smiled at them before. I think that is pretty sad. However, when people do respond back with a smile, it is a beautiful thing and will make both parties involved feel joy in the moment. When in doubt, smile it out!

6: Everybody is struggling: 

Sometimes things get crazy, and the struggle bus comes to town. There can get to be so much on your plate-too many papers, assignments, group projects, choreography, etc. to do that everything feels like it is imploding. But, that also means that you can get fairly absorbed in your own dilemmas and get tunnel vision of sorts. There have been points during finals week or around the time that a big project is due that I feel like I haven’t looked another person in the eye or therefore communicated fully with anyone for a while. -That’s crazy! So somehow you have to remind yourself that everyone else around you is struggling too. This would be a good time to put #5  to good use. 🙂

7: Alone time is good time: 

Freshman year and even Sophomore year I thought that when I had to eat alone or attend an event alone, or if I was just spending time alone in my room that I was missing out, and that people would judge me and think that I was a loser with no friends or something along those lines. It was a bit of an accurate worry, as I was still finding my way and trying to make social connections, but I realize it really was not a big deal. Now, sometimes I crave alone time and need it to refresh and organize my thoughts. When I am alone nowadays, I never worry that I am a loser, and later find that the time spent with friends and classmates is much more enjoyable after having that time by myself.

8: Be a “real” person occasionally:

As dancers, we are used to going everywhere with warm up clothes worn over our leotards and tights, hair thrown up in a bun, and always ready to move. Sometimes you just feel like you always look kind of crappy. So, I have found that it is important to take even just one day on the weekend to put some jeans on, maybe get off campus and remember that there is a real world out there full of all kinds of opportunities, and that your label of “dancer” does not always have to be visible.

9: Pleasing that one teacher who “doesn’t like you”:

I think we all can relate to the feeling of having a teacher or professor who we feel just does not like us. We can work our butts off, get good grades, do extra credit, spend extra time in the studio going over corrections, etc. and they still just give off a vibe of dislike. I certainly have felt this, and tried everything I could to turn it around.  And do you know what I have discovered? Their opinion does NOT matter!!! If you tried your best, that is all you can do. Maybe you remind them of someone else they have known in their life, maybe they don’t like your personality, but that is on them. Don’t waste time where it will not be of any use. Not everyone has to like you, and not everyone will.

10: Don’t play the comparison game:

The dance world is no doubt competitive, as you are constantly under pressure to be good enough for a certain role, or the right look for a company position or dance style. It is super easy to compare yourself to your peers around you and set standards that way. However, that mindset will not get you very far, is in no way beneficial, and will only result in negative feelings and disappointment. It is super hard to break from this comparison impulse when you are so constantly side by side, but you have to try.  Instead, you have got to focus on the fact that you are an individual dancer and can direct your attention towards how to be better than yourself. That is the only way to truly improve and move forward.

So there you have it. Just some things it has practically taken all four years to fully learn, discover, and comprehend in my own way. Hopefully you can take a snippet with you.

~Victoria

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pull it up, or pull it down?

This past weekend I had the privilege of doing what I love once again-dancing on stage. Performing in front of a large audience just brings such vivacity into life in a way that other things cannot, although nerves, doubtful thoughts, inner turmoil, and exhaustion like to tag along. Double the fun too, if it includes a fairly large cast of dancers that you get to share the experience with up on the stage (which it did). So all in all, this weekend was a fun one. It was my dance conservatory’s Spring Concert, and I had the privilege of performing in George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, which originally premiered in 1946. If you don’t know anything about this particular ballet of good ol’ George’s, here’s a little info.

The Four Temperaments begins with three separate themes. Each takes the form of a duet, with one woman and one man. I had the honor of performing the woman’s role (for obvious reasons), in the second theme. The ballet then goes on to portray four different temperaments, as the title alludes to. These temperaments being: melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic, and choleric. Lastly, all of the dancers appear back on stage for the finale, which incorporates movement vocabulary from each of the four temperaments previously portrayed.

Additionally, The Four Temperaments is one of Balanchine’s Black and White ballets- meaning that the costume worn by the dancers is only a black leotard and pink tights for the ladies, and  a white shirt and black tights for the gentlemen. This basic costume, which mimics everyday practice clothing, allows for visible clean lines, and doesn’t hide anything (almost not hiding what it needs to hide).

Part of this whole performance experience involved wearing the actual black leotards and pink tights worn by the New York City Ballet dancers. So for one, these costumes were very old. The black belts worn around our waists were fraying by the minute and we had to be extremely gentle in order not to poke holes in the delicate leotard fabric. For two, these costumes were also quite small. The tights no longer had stretch in them, so they were constantly falling down, but the leotard was the best part. That moment when you are in the wings preparing yourself to look just right as you take your first step on stage (where you would normally just adjust a strap, tweak a bobby pin, or just take a deep breath) I would pull the leotard up. But nope, that wouldn’t do, so I’d pull it down, but then pull it up again, but nope back down it goes- there just wasn’t enough fabric to cover everything necessary.  However, when performing, you’ve got to pretend none of this is happening. Even if a wardrobe malfunction does occur while on stage, you can’t exactly stop, turn around and tell your partner to hold up a minute, and fix it. That’s just not how live performances work.

Here is a picture of my wonderful partner (seriously though he is the best partner ever) and I backstage before the performance. As you can see, the leotard is quite small.

Dressing room photo
The Four Temperaments-Theme Two

Anyway… I hope the audience enjoyed seeing a decent amount of my booty on stage this weekend (I chose to pull the leotard up). Despite the tiny costume and surrounding difficulties, I had so much fun performing this piece, and I would love to have the chance to dance it again in the future.

~Victoria

Dancing with Emotion

Some of the best dance pieces that resonate with audiences, hold an emotional issue at their core. Dancing that has emotion behind it is honest, direct, and endearing. Often, these pieces are inspired by a true story, and allow for a certain story or journey to be recounted without words, in pure movement and expression. Because of this element of honesty and heart-pulling emotional content, an impression is often left for a lengthy period of time. One piece that randomly pops into my head at points over the years since I first saw it, is “Calling You” choreographed by Mia Michaels and danced by Travis Wall and Heidi Groskreutz. The simplicity of the movement, yet intricate work involving the bench made it very memorable and powerful.  So here is a little Flashback Friday to the year 2006. Check out the piece below:

Such a beautiful yet sad expression of a relationship. The beautiful thing about emotional dance pieces is that every individual who watches the piece will take something different away from it, in how they are able to relate it to their own personal life experiences and feelings. Some audience members get confused by dance pieces if they feel they do not understand what the choreographer is trying to portray, but on the contrary, dance pieces actually leave an open realm for your imagination to wander and observe the work in your own way. So don’t let any dance choreography baffle you. If you think a piece is about astronauts exploring the deep sea, but it was actually inspired by giraffes, don’t feel bad. If that is your interpretation of the work, then it is not wrong! Enjoy the beauty of artistic freedom.

~Victoria

The Struggle of Originality

Choreography can be a super fun endeavor or quite a struggle depending on the situation. It can be a mind game of sorts as it takes a lot of creativity, thinking, and altering to transform movement into a dance. There are many elements that go into the making of a dance piece. First, there is the concept or theme, then the movement, plus the music to go along with it, and costumes and lighting… the list goes on and on. But when you arrive at an end result, it can be amazing and powerful to create and say something without the use of words.

In this current world where social media runs the show, and videos are heavily accessible, it can be hard to produce truly original or unique content. The most unique part about choreography is how you put it together and organize the movement in space and time and perhaps with other dancers. To be honest here, most dance steps, gestures,or patterns have been done before and just like a plot or story for a movie, they become unique when you change it around and generate an idea through the voice of your own mind.

Take Disney movies as an example. Over the years, Disney has reused animation of their dance choreography, and were therefore copying their own movement material. Check out what I am talking about below:

Ahhhh, Disney movies. 🙂 Anyways… so even though they copied the exact same movement animation, the different characters and stories portrayed allowed the movement to become unique and special to each certain movie. In this particular situation, we do not have a case of copyright infringement as Disney is just recycling their own material. However, copyright infringement is a serious thing if you regurgitate someone else’s choreography and present it as your own. A more well-known instance of this occurred between Beyoncé and Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Check it out below:

As you can see in this comparison, Beyonce’s music video for ‘Countdown’ very closely copied the choreography, costuming, and style seen in Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s works ‘Rosas danst Rosas’ and ‘Achterland‘. Although Beyoncé should have been charged with copyright infringement, as she did not even credit Keersmaeker in the video, this event was basically pushed under the rug due to the popularity of Beyoncé.

Therefore, when choreographing, it is best to never copy movement directly, or you may find yourself in a sticky situation. You can use the work of others as a source of inspiration, or an aid, but never as a carbon copy. Just like plagiarism in writing, make the choice to use your own voice through dance, not someone else’s.

~Victoria

Inspiration is Everywhere

In the dance world, where we are constantly moving, thinking, and creating, we can find inspiration in many different places. Actually, inspiration can be found everywhere- you just have to be open to the world and everything around you, in order to see it.  When creating movement or a dance piece, it is easy to look in obvious places for a basis of movement, such as: your own life experiences, a favorite object, emotion, or story, or even a significant event that has happened in your life. However, branching out into different and more uncharted territories can make for quite a wonderful discovery. Subjects such as: a certain sound, nature, or another means of art-such as a painting, can help you think about movement creation in a new light, and allow for a deeper search and new meaning.

Take this painting “Colleen” by Iris Scott for example:

Colleen

One could analyze this piece of art in the usual, factual sense of a painting analysis. Obviously we see a girl, she is outdoors, surrounded by different elements of nature. The falling leaves inform us that it is fall, and the umbrella and rain boots give off the sense that it is raining.  However, if we take a more in-depth look, with an eye for dance creation involved, we can look a bit deeper. The varying layers of colors and shading used in this painting allow us to use our imaginative side and envision the many different emotions or aspects that these shadings represent. For example, we could look at the progression of colors as a basis for a story line or pathway of movement structure. Each color could represent a different emotion or quality, or a certain movement gesture. The floating quality given to the leaves could also be an element which translates into a form of movement. And in addition, the rainy setting can set forth a certain vibe. Anything you observe can be related in a new sense and rediscovered as movement as long as you can visualize it in your mind, or physicalize it in your body.

The art form of dance is quite a unique medium and important means of expression. The ability to communicate anything through movement is certainly a gift that should not be stunted. It is a beautiful thing when you can see an idea, thought, emotion, or object portrayed in a new and fresh light right before your eyes. Plus, the unique thing about dance is that, unlike this painting which will be here forever, it is fleeting and can only be viewed and embraced in a single moment.

~Victoria