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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Water, Agua, H2O

Glass of water
Is this glass of water making you thirsty? If so, you’re already partially dehydrated.

Maybe you like it, maybe you hate it, maybe you prefer to swim in it rather than drink it… However you feel about water, there is no denying its importance to your health and your body. Especially a super active body that is constantly bending into all different shapes and moving in every direction. We have all heard the phrase “you should drink eight glasses of water a day”, but have you actually tried to track how much water you consume in one day? Sometimes it is difficult to track, if you’re on the run all the time, or alternating between a refillable bottle of water, and glasses of water when you are home. It’s easy to believe that you are drinking plenty of water just by going through a normal day, but if you really focus on it, you will find that it is actually easy to go through a day depriving your body of the water it needs.

So, you most likely already knew that you should drink a good amount of water, but do you really know why? Here are some important reasons below:

1.You, yes you, just sitting there as a human being are made up of 55%-70% water. Kind of hard to believe, right? How do we not just turn into a puddle all the time? (Maybe the Wicked Witch of the West melting away wasn’t such an exaggeration after all…) Anything that has a majority percentage contributing to its makeup, obviously needs that very thing to keep existing. Take a house for example. Say a house is made up of roughly 60% wood on top of the original foundation. Well, if you take away even just 5% of that wood, the house will not be able to stand and will end up collapsing. The same thing would happen to your body if it becomes dehydrated.

2.  By drinking your fair share of water, you avoid dehydration (and therefore the collapse of your house). If your body does become dehydrated, you will start to feel many different symptoms such as: fatigue, headaches, muscle cramps, high blood pressure, and dry skin. All of which are not helpful when dancing and certainly do not allow you to perform at your best.

3. Your brain also needs to stay hydrated! To stay focused and sharp in order to remember choreography and movement, your brain needs to be clear and at its best all the time. With even just a small depletion of water in the body, your brain will start to lose cognitive function and therefore your memory, your ability to think on your feet, and your dancing will be effected.

4. Your heart has to put in a lot of work from the constant cardiovascular needs of dancing. You wouldn’t want to make its job harder, would you? Without enough water, your blood viscosity increases therefore making your heart have to pump harder in order for blood to flow through the vessels and oxygen to travel to the organs and tissues of your body.

These are only a few major reasons why we must drink plenty of water! You cannot be physically active all the time, and not replenish your body with the amount of hydration it needs to function at its best. So if you are not currently drinking a glass of water, please get up and go get one. Your body will thank you!

~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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Gratitude

I believe that gratitude is a wonderful thing to feel and to also receive.  It means that there is a give and take involved with another human being. That you are receiving something, but also giving something that allows you to feel grateful in return (or vice versa). This weekend was my Senior Project Dance Concert which involved many different elements working up to it that caused me to feel quite insane a number of times, but the actual concert was such a wonderful experience. The concert included a piece that I choreographed, plus a solo that I danced myself- plus the choreography and solos of four other seniors that I shared the concert with. Having the opportunity to share and present my work and dancing in this manner was such a privilege, and I finished this weekend feeling utterly grateful for the many people in my life, and the gift of dancing that I am able to share with others.

Feeling gratitude in my dancing is not something I have felt quite often. However, as I was dancing my solo for the last time on Saturday evening, that was exactly what I was overcome with. Receiving support from many family members, friends, and classmates was an overwhelming and humbling thing, and my heart was filled with joy to know that my dancing was greeted with support and warmth, allowing me to truly dance from the heart.

So perhaps take a moment to wrap yourself in the feeling of gratitude, and share a little of that feeling with those around you whether through words, actions, or the expressive nature of dancing.

~Victoria

Mind over Matter

So yesterday was my birthday, which included a full day of dancing as per usual. Honestly, I would not have it any other way. Some days full of dancing are really rough; taxing on the body and on the mind. When every movement you make is constantly analyzed and your body is viewed in such a vulnerable state, it is often hard not to be over critical and beat yourself up about anything you do wrong. However, yesterday I decided to take a different approach. I let myself be in the moment and enjoy the fact that I am alive, that I am dancing, that I am able to do what I love right now in this moment. Really that is all that matters. Changing my attitude for the day, made me have much more fun than I have been feeling lately with my over-critical mindset. Did I do everything perfectly? No. Did I land every pirouette in ballet class? No. I did not enjoy myself more because everything was perfect. Honestly, nothing is ever perfect. It is all about the way you approach things and what you are telling yourself up there in your mind. If you tell yourself everything is bad and wrong, well it is going to be bad and wrong.

Your mind is such a powerful thing, and I believe it is time we started using it to spread positivity. I feel like it has become a recent trend to be negative and hate on people or things in popular media and society these days. Even to the point where teen clothing features written statements of negative context. I don’t know why this has become the new ‘thing’, other than the fact that it is easier to be negative and focus on all of the things that go wrong, and all of the things that you don’t have, but there is so much to be grateful for! When you can appreciate the little things, you realize that the bad things really aren’t so bad. That is what I did yesterday, and that is why it was a great day. So this is what I challenge you to do. Even just for one day, look at the world with a positive mind and turn off those negative thoughts that stem from the little you inside your head. See where the day takes you!

~Victoria

 

 

What a Rush

We all have a certain something that constantly appeals to us, draws us in, and captures our attention. It could be as simple as a food, a television show, a person, an environment, or a feeling. However, when you find that something that makes you feel more alive than anything else, you’ve got to hold on to it.

Adrenaline. That’s my thing. The adrenaline rush that you get from dancing on a stage, in front of an audience, is like no other feeling. I still remember the first time that I performed a solo on stage by my lonesome. I was literally terrified, but the mixture of nerves and excitement tossed into the recipe of physically being active, produced this otherworldly environment that I was enticed to revisit again and again.

Adrenaline is defined as: a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, especially in conditions of stress, increasing rates of blood circulation, breathing, and carbohydrate metabolism and preparing muscles for exertion. So it turns out, adrenaline is actually the perfect tool to prepare you for a performance, aiding in the ultimate physical activity that your body must exert.

Here’s a visual representation:

aaaaaaaaaa The chemical makeup of adrenaline

The molecular formula for epinephrine is C9H13NO3. C as in Carbon, H as in Hydrogen, and NO as in Nobelium. And there is your brief science lesson for the day.

~Victoria