At one time scientists thought that only humans could respond to music. Animals, including cats, dogs and even monkeys, could hear music, but any response they might seem to have was not in rhythm with the music. Music might soothe the savage beast, but he wasn’t able to boogie to it.
But then a scientist, Aniruddh Patel, saw a Youtube video of a cockatoo called Snowball. And it looked like Snowball was reacting to a BackStreet Boys song. The bird changed his pace, his kicks and beak dipping, in response to the music.
It was a fascinating observation that led to the understanding that vocal learners, like dolphins and song birds, changed their body’s response based on the speed of the music. It also helped understanding how our brain coordinates movement in response to music.
You know what I’m taking about don’t you. That’s right. Dancing.
Dancing is more complex than you’d think. The motor cortex of the frontal lobe plans and executes voluntary movements. The basal ganglia, deeper in the brain, helps coordinate movements and the cerebellum allows us to keep a beat, maintain a rhythm.
That’s the part we understand, there’s a lot we don’t understand.
Like why patients with Parkinson’s may show some improvement with dance. In a study in Northwestern University, individuals who attended a dance class for 10 weeks reported a reduction in their disability. The study was small but it was thought that dance activated areas of the brain that helped them improve.
Other studies have shown benefits in stress, anxiety and even dementia. Dancing releases endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemicals in our body.
Peter Lovatt is known as Doctor Dance. He studies psychology as it is applied in dance. He believes that how we move our body can have an impact on how we learn and think. He was a professional dancer, but in 2008 he combined his love of dance with the study of psychology. He’s a pretty interesting guy and you can hear his TED talks on his website.
How did I discover these interesting facts?
I often visit my mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. We call her the Dancing Queen. I’d never seen my mother dance until she was diagnosed with dementia. I don’t know if the disease removed her inhibitions or if music appeals to her in a different way now. What I know is that she LOVES to dance. So I researched why that might be true and I think it's because it makes her feel better.
Here’s the cool thing.
I can’t help her. I can’t make her sleep better or understand what is happening. I can’t always be there to encourage her to drink more or comfort her when she’s scared. There’s so much that I can’t do that it makes me feel helpless and frustrated. But there is something I can do with her…
I can dance.