Going into a ballet class most people expect the physical strain that comes with the grace, poise, posture and foot work that ballet dancers are famous for enduring. However, people forget that ballet also works the mind.
“You need to really think during a ballet class,” says Dianne Harrison, principal at Elancé Adult Ballet School in Melbourne. “Your brain needs to be several steps ahead of your body. It must instruct and control multiple muscle groups, apply the correct techniques to prevent injury and create artistry through emotional expression. And then you dance!”
Fortunately, our brains respond well to these challenges. A 2017 study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal compared the impact that both dance and repetitive endurance training had on the hippocampus – the part of the brain that is mostly associated with memory.
As a result of the different arm formations, steps, rhythms, and speeds, the study found that ballet dancing led to a behavioural change through improved balance.
It found that while both had a positive impact, only dancing led to a behavioural change through improved balance. The authors attributed this to dancers having to learn new routines, as well as different arm formations, steps, rhythms and speeds.
Meanwhile, a 2003 study in The New England Journal of Medicine showed that of 11 physical activities, only dancing was associated with a lower risk of dementia.
Luckily, ballet, however ungraceful, moves us forward.