I spent the pas…
I spent the past 62 hours living and breathing ballroom dance. I’m part of the GW team and this weekend we attended a regional competition. It’s nearly impossible to describe the alternate universe that the competitors, if only for a short time, inhabit. The lights, the tuxedos and dresses, the music that has me taking study breaks to waltz through Gelman are completely alien to most people. Naturally, I dreaded this discussion period, if only because I couldn’t imagine a less scientific environment to inspire an academic revelation. I tried everything to focus my mind in a more studious direction; even turning my ipod onto an angsty heavy-metal playlist which no-one, under any circumstances, could ever dance to, but it was all useless. It was only when I tried to reconcile my passion for dance with this assignment that I got accomplished anything.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things that this class has made me consider is that science and art may not be as segregated as I’d always thought. Visually, audibly, tangibly, there is an art to science and a science to art. While it may sound obvious, up until recently I hadn’t given a thought to how my brain responds when I go through my routines on the competition floor. That was until I read the following article called “So you think you can dance?: PET scans reveal your brain’s inner choreography” posted on the Scientific American blog;
It really should have occured to me earlier: taking physics in high school had improved the quality of my technique exponentially, but hey, we’re only human and I guess I was still reluctant to aknowledge science’s role in performance art. I had always thought that people’s instinct to dance was just that: something involuntary that had everything to do with passion and little to do with the “calculated, clinical” nature that I had attributed to science. As it turns out, this instinct actually occurs when certain subcortical brain regions converse, bypassing higher auditory areas. This is what causes us to tap our feet when we identify a rhythm. As I watched championship level dancers sweep effortlessly across the ballroom, I could not help but marvel at their perception of space and their aptitude for choreography. Reading this article later, I learned that this requires specialized mental skills that are developed simultaneously as they train their movements- unconscious entrainment. There is one part of the brain that houses a representation of the body’s orientation. This interacts with another part of the brain which acts as a synchronizer; one which enables us to pace our actions to music. The two allow dancers to move through space in perfect synchronization with a piece of music.
The article hypothesizes that dance is a fundamental form of human expression that evolved together with music as a way of generating rhythm. I’d certainly agree with this. It is truly remarkable what we are physically able to accomplish, especially when considering how much of the communication that occurs internally is completely sub-concious. Every movement, whether it’s dancing a foxtrot, playing a concerto, or painting a landscape, involves a complexity of response that is truly remarkable. In a way, I’ve accepted that this is the science of expression- that our most personal experiences are conveyed through a beautifully delicate web of neurological explanation.