Rooted in Rhythm

From the moment a baby comes into existence, it is surrounded by rhythm – thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump.  They are surrounded by the resonance of a beating heart.  That need for a steady rhythm persists throughout our lives. 

Rhythm is foundational to the functions of a human body.  Circadian rhythms govern basic biology – waking and sleeping, hunger and elimination, body temperature.  Our entire lives are governed by this rhythm and its disruption can have dire effects, potentially leading to the development of disease.[1]  We cannot escape rhythm, even though we rarely consider it.  It is how we understand time, it influences our engagement in conversation, and it allows us to synchronize with others.[2]

External rhythm can also have a profound effect on us.  With few exceptions, bodies respond unconsciously to music.  We will tap our foot, or nod our head, or sway. Sometimes these are deliberate actions, but sometimes they are a spontaneous response that engages with the rhythm.  Even infants move more when they hear music than they do in silence.[3] 

Rhythm is one of the defining characteristics of Irish dance.  Whether it’s a full treble line in a commercial show, the high flying intricacies of a competitive dancer, or the musical counterpoint of a dancer tapping the tune with their feet, Irish dance is rooted in rhythm. What’s particularly intriguing about rhythm is that we can hear the beat underlying the music – whether the rhythms or syncopated or during a moment of silence.[4]  Kelsey, one of my teachers, speaks often about using silence as part of rhythm, allowing a dance to breathe.  It is a dancer’s ability to convey the rhythm and musicality of a tune through their feet that is a measure of a good Irish dancer.

In my role as dance educator, I do not believe my only job is to teach certain steps of choreography to specific pieces of music.  Of course, that is part of my work and contributes to the development of rhythm.  My largest task, rather, is to help form whole human beings who will thrive and contribute to their community.  Would it surprise you to learn that research has shown that young children who are able to keep a steady beat for one or two minutes show greater reading proficiency as they get older?  Being able to feel and maintain a steady beat promotes mastery of language and literacy, mathematics, and other academic content, as well as developing physical capacities and motor control.[5]  Our bodies are made to move and they gravitate towards rhythm.

So, if you are interested in improving your memory, verbal fluency, information processing speed, ability to plan, and just plain move over the course of your lifetime, find your dance rhythm now!  At Kaleidoscope Studio we love creating feet music and provide classes to help build brains of all ages so we can all dance for a lifetime.

[1] Samithamby Senthilnathan and Kanthasamy Sathiyasegar, , “Circadian Rhythm and Its Importance in Human Life” (August 23, 2019). Available at http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3441495, accessed February 28, 2023.

[2] Anne Danielsen, quoted in “A sense of rhythm – why do we have it and what does it mean to us?” (November 29, 2018) https://www.uio.no/ritmo/english/news-and-events/news/2018/a-sense-of-rhythm—why-do-we-have-it-and-what-doe.html, accessed February 28, 2023.

[3] Shahram Heshmat, “The importance of rhythm in everyday life” in Psychology Today (June 30, 2022) Available at https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/science-choice/202206/the-importance-rhythm-in-everyday-life, accessed February 28, 2023.

[4] S.A. Kotz, A. Ravignani, and WT Fitch, “The Evolution of Rhythm Processing” Trends in Cognitive Science October 2018 22(10) :896-910,  https://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/fulltext/S1364-6613(18)30191-8?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS1364661318301918%3Fshowall%3Dtrue, accessed February 28, 2023.

[5] Phyllis S. Weikert, Movement in Steady Beat: Learning on the Move, Ages 3-7. Second Edition. (Belmont, CA, Wadsworth Publishing, 2003).

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