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