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Dance and a "Talent for Unconscious Entrainment"

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, April 3, 2014

What is happening in that mysterious space between people who discover they have fine interpersonal chemistry?

tango dancers Suzanne Dikker, a cognitive neuroscientist at New York University, hopes dancing holds clues. She is using dance to investigate human brainwave synchronization and learn how it can happen. "NeuroTango" was hosted recently by the Greater New York City Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience as part of its Brain Awareness Week. It was also an opportunity for Dikker to get pairs of tango dancers to wear EEG headsets to measure their brain waves as they danced and thought about dancing. A Scientist.com story by Eli Chen describes Dikker's experiment.

Couples who were experienced dancing partners danced to music as they usually would. They then switched partners, so they were dancing with a new partner or someone less familiar. Next, they stood still with their original partners and imagined dancing. Dikker projected graphics onto the walls, showing when dancers' brains were in sync, and not. Other studies have shown that experienced dancers coordinate their movement differently from novices, and that both dancing and mentally rehearsing the dance stimulate similar brain activity.

Dikker said she is using the tango because the dancers perform fast, intricate movements that require exceptional coordination and the need to anticipate each other's every step, sway and twirl. In addition, leaders and followers have different mental tasks. She also hopes to learn whether the EEG can reliably measure brain activities of people who are moving. The Scientist story says Dikker had worked with Marina Abramovic on "Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze," at the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow in 2011. In that event, designed to examine empathy and nonverbal communication, Amramovic and volunteers sitting opposite her gazed into each other's eyes while EEG headsets captured their brain activities. In that case, the subjects were stationary.

Lawrence Parsons, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Sheffield, did a neuroimaging study of dancers in 2008. An article he co-authored for the Scientific American says coordinated dancing may not occur anywhere in the animal kingdom except among humans. "Our talent for unconscious entrainment lies at the core of dance, a confluence of movement, rhythm and gestural representation," the article says. "By far the most synchronized group practice, dance demands a type of interpersonal coordination in space and time that is almost nonexistent in other social contexts."

Lewis Hou, a research associate at the University of Edinburgh, is studying what happens in the brains of Scottish folk dancers as they perform. He praises NeuroTango as excellent science communication and a good way to engage the public in neuroscience. Hou will be participating in a science festival this April in Edinburgh where the dance performances will be partnered with scientific explorations.

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

From "Among School Children" by William Butler Yeats

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  music  neuroscience  research 

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