Dancers offer clue to brain functions

February 6, 2004

Dancers have a highly developed "body memory" that helps them remember their steps and gives them an advanced sense of their position in three-dimensional space, psychologists believe.

The theory is being tested at Birmingham University's Behavioural Brain Sciences Centre in collaboration with choreographer Wayne McGregor and his Sadler's Wells company, Random Dance.

The dancers perform a series of steps while wearing light-reflective markers that allow scientists to track their movements using video and computer equipment. They repeat the sequence while blindfolded and conducting tasks such as counting backwards.

According to Alan Wing, professor of human movement at the centre, the results so far suggest that a "body memory" area in the brain is more developed in dancers than in other people.

He said: "We have found great consistency in the way dancers are able to reproduce their positions in space, and it appears that this is related to the way they think about their body."

Professor Wing and his team hope the experiment will advance understanding of how control of the body is affected by brain injury or disease.

"By investigating expert dancers and elderly or disabled individuals who often have difficulties making even simple movements, we are better able to understand the brain's control of complex movement," he said.

Mr McGregor added: "As a choreographer committed to exploring physical languages and movement systems, this project affords an opportunity to look differently at my methods of working and to develop new ones."

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