Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dance is Brain Food

A 21-year long study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that dancing increases cognitive acuity. Significantly more than crossword puzzles. The article is nicely summarized here, on the Stanford social dance site.

Not just any kind of dancing, either. It has to be the kind that requires improvisational work, the styles that require you to make lots of decisions on a split-second basis.

And mostly women benefit.  Why? You probably know that most partner dancing is pretty sexist. Men are expected to "lead" and women are expect to "follow".  I put those words in quotes because there are no really good words describing what those two roles are doing.

The lead -- usually the man -- does what? Directs? Orients? Maybe invites. Offers an idea about how to understand the music with this particular partner.

The follow -- usually the woman -- does what?  Not just does what she's told, that's for sure. Responds? Interprets. The follow interprets the dance based on the music and the guy in front of her.

Now because, as the article says, follows typically make "hundreds of split-second decisions as to what to do next", they gain the most cognitive exercise from dance.  The leads don't have to respond or interpret nearly as often, so they gain less.

In dances like Argentine Tango and Blues and Fusion, where each led movement can have dozens of subtle implications requiring immediate and complicated follow decisions, the cognitive workout is significant.

The article suggests ways leads can improve their cognitive workout. They suggest the lead really notice the subtleties of their partner's actions and respond in real-time, rather than following a pattern.

That is, pay attention. That is, watch and listen.

Hey leads, are you listening now?  Maybe it's a good time to start. Do it for your brain.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo for this provocative post! The PhD (philosophically handicapped dancer) is one who actually believes "leading" and "following" describes what is happening in improvisational dance. It is not. The sad thing is that "leaders" are being trained NOT to listen. Just as much listening should be going on with the traditional male/female roles. I would love to see the research on what happens with beginner men who are told they are not leaders, and that the MUSIC is the leader. What would happen if "leaders" (I call them "Listener guides") were told to listen to the leader (music) and how the woman interprets intention (la marca). I have long written about my experience as a Listener Guide, but have been discounted by teachers and "followers" who think that it's a good name. It is not: If the goal is making money, being valued more, having more status in the military--it's best not to be a "follower." What a degrading term. Worse that that, it is an inaccurate term that causes poor outcomes, including men feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility. It is NOT a compliment to hear a woman say, "Wow, that was great." I say, "What happened was both of us listening to the music," and then she says convincingly: "I just followed you." Great for the ego? No. Later if it doesn't go well, she's blaming the "leader." Praise for men, as it now stands is a double edged sword. I don't mind being 50% responsible for wonderful or terrible outcomes, but 100% is only because of PhD's just not knowing that their cognitions are limiting what improvisational dance is all about.