The BrainDance

If you have taken a dance class with me in the past 2 years, you will likely have done a BrainDance as part of the warm up.  I first encountered the BrainDance taking Andrea Trench’s Foundations Course for Early Childhood Dance Educators.  It intrigued me and I quickly integrated it into my own teaching practice.  In this post I will share a bit about the history and origins of the BrainDance.

Dance educator, Anne Green Gilbert, developed the BrainDance in 2000.  She researched extensively, beginning in the early 1970s at the outset of her teaching career.  She wanted to know how to structure classes to provide holistic development for dancers.  This included teaching them to become “skilled technicians, critical thinkers, successful collaborators, inventive creators, and thoughtful responders.”[1]  She read about perceptual motor development and sensory integration and through the 1980s and 1990s witnessed a rise in behavioural and learning problems.  Her conclusion was that children weren’t moving enough, on top of which, “they were spending too much time in containers, such as car seats and school desks.”[2]  As the field of neuroscience has expanded, we have greater access into the intricacies of the brain-body connection.  The BrainDance was one of Anne Green Gilbert’s contributions to helping form healthy brains and bodies.

Brain development begins in utero and continues through infancy.  In the early 2000s, Gopnik, Meltzoff and Kuhl referred to babies as “scientists in the crib.”[3]  Babies are not born as tabula rasa (blank slates) as believed by western philosophers as early as Aristotle[4] through to Descartes, Locke, and Freud.  What neuroscientists discovered is that babies are born with a learning action plan hardwired into their brains and bodies and it is “in the first few years of life that 90 percent of neural pathways are set.”[5]  What has happened, though, are societal changes that hinder the development of these pathways as increasingly, we spend our time sitting in front of screens.  This is across the age spectrum from infants to seniors.  Our brains have become increasingly disconnected from our bodies through lack of movement. 

The BrainDance is a series of developmental movement patterns through which babies proceed in their first years of life.  At its core, it moves the body through a replication of the of a “baby’s early movement patterns that initiate brain growth.”[6]  For infants, these movements are reflexes, which become integrated, and then voluntary.  According to Connell and McCarthy, “without automated movement a child will not be able to think.”[7]  The eight movement patterns of the BrainDance are Breath, Tactile, Core-Distal, Head/Tail, Upper/Lower, Body Sides, Cross Lateral, and Vestibular.  They are based on Irmgard Bartenieff’s Movement Fundamentals, a set of principals for “corrective body movement.”[8]  Green Gilbert experienced the benefits of these personally and quickly applied them to her own teaching context; the problem for Green Gilbert was that they required extensive use of the floor and her school programs were limited to the area each student had around their desks.  To provide dancers with the benefits of the movement patterns in a small space, she created a standing sequence.  Through the BrainDance, students became more focused, energized, and ready to learn.[9]  Moving through the patterns has also contributed to “oxygenating the brain, reorganizing the central nervous system, and enhancing core support and alignment.”[10]  Many modern concerns – such as depression, dementia, joint issues, fatigue and stress, lack of focus – can all be improved by exercise.  The BrainDance is adaptable for all ages, from the youngest dancers moving through the patterns with their caregivers to the oldest dancers seated in chairs.

Stay tuned for a future post about what the research has to say about the benefits of BrainDance.  At Kaleidoscope Studio, we are committed to teaching dance as an important aspect of holistic development at all ages and stages, offering Irish dance classes for babies, children, teens, adults, and seniors.  Contact us if you would like to start your Irish dance journey today! 

[1] Anne Green Gilbert, Brain-Compatible Dance Education, 2nd Edition, (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2016), vii.

[2] Greet Gilbert, Brain-Compatible, vii.

[3] Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff and Patricia K. Kuhl, The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind (New York: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2000).

[4] Aristotle, De Anima, 429b29-430a1.

[5] Green Gilbert, Brain-Compatible, 4.

[6] Green Gilbert, Brain Compatible, 10.

[7] Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy, A Moving Child is a Learning Child (Golden Valley, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 2014), 8.

[8] Irmgard Bartenieff and D. Lewis, Body Movement: Coping with the Environment (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1980).

[9] Green Gilbert, Brain-Compatible, 69.

[10] Anne Green Gilbert, Creative Dance for All Ages, 2nd Edition (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2015), 68.

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