How Dance Helps the Brain

Recently, I shared a blog about many of the ways for dance to bring light and love into our lives.  While writing that piece I realized there was a lot more to say about how dance benefits our brain!  I touched on a few of them, and today I want to dive in a little more deeply.

After reading multiple studies, I am confident to share the results of my research!

Dance has been declared again and again to be the physical activity that appeals most widely and involves the most cognitive engagement—especially choreographed dance.  Now you might be thinking, Choreographed dance? That sounds more competitive than what I’m looking for!

I got you.  

Choreographed dance can be something you do alone in your living room if you want it to be! It can be as easy and accessible as watching a video and mimicking the movements.  This can be an instructive video, or simply watching your favourite musical and following along.  

I see so many videos online of dance trends that seem to originate from some TikTok creators.  It’s really something to watch a room full of different people, of different ages, people who don’t even know each other do a TikTok dance to a piece of a pop song because they’ve all learned it at home… it feels like a spontaneous flash mob for about 30 seconds.  Highly entertaining!  

Choreographed dance simply means, studying someone else dancing and learning their movements for yourself.  That’s it.  Of course, there is a lot of choreography when you’re taking a dance class as well, but this blog is about making dance accessible to everyone!

So what does dance, choreographed or otherwise, do for the brain exactly?  I found two fundamental benefits:

  • Increased Neuroplasticity
  • Delays or prevents neurodegenerative diseases

If that has piqued your interest, let’s get into it!

1. Increased Neuroplasticity

The incredible benefits of dance on the brain can be explained through which areas are activated.  Dancing lights up the cerebral cortex and hippocampus which rewire themselves in direct correlation to the level of use they get.  The more you dance the more of a workout your cerebral cortex and hippocampus get!  The cerebral cortex, according to Simply Psychology, is basically what most people think of when someone says, “brain.”  There are the left and right hemispheres, and the various lobes.  Basically, it’s where all of our higher functions are.  It’s responsible for “many conscious and unconscious functions such as […] movement, processing sensory information […], processing language, intelligence, and personality.” (Simply Psychology)  The hippocampus is found within the temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex, and it has a “major role in learning and memory.” (National Library of Medicine)  It’s no wonder every human society known to anthropologists has evidence of music and dance ceremonies!  It’s quite simply integral to our development and longevity!  

How do we know these are the areas dance engages?  Read on to find out!

2. Maintains and Improves Brain Functions

The New England Journal of Medicine studied the cognitive activity of 469 people over the age of 75 who were not showing symptoms of any neurodegenerative diseases when the study began.  Over the course of 5 years and 6 weeks, 124 subjects developed some type of dementia disease.  That’s a little over a quarter of the total test group.  Subjects of the study participated in multiple leisure activities.   Reading, playing board-games, playing musical instruments, and dancing were the ones that were identified as reducing the risk of neurodegeneration.   This was proven through monitoring the brains of the participants.  Learning which parts (the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus) of the brain were engaged in various activities made it possible to identify which ones would prevent or delay dementia and other similar conditions.  Dance was the only physical leisure activity that was proven to do so!  In fact, the study claims that dancing frequently reduces the risk of dementia by 76%!  WOW!  Dancing took first place, followed by crossword puzzles 4 times per week at 47%, and reading at 35%.

From understanding the mental engagement that dancing requires from our brain, we can extrapolate that it would also boost your memory – creating memories, recalling memories, and increasing muscle memory.  Communication and intelligence are two other areas that are improved by dancing.  

Your brain has to interpret what it’s seeing and hearing and then translate it into actions for your body to do.  There are not very many activities that require this.  Let’s sit with this for a minute.  The process of hearing music, and then moving in accordance with it is very unique.  

It’s different from how we learn to play sports.  Yes sports overlap in a lot of ways with dance: learning movements, creating a plan with a team, being coached, and reacting to external stimuli to achieve the desired outcome.  

But dance.  

Dance doesn’t require the same level of coaching or the same kind of reaction.  It doesn’t even require you to learn movements or create a plan ahead of time.  You hear the music and allow those sounds to become how you move.  

There’s nothing else like it!  

It’s no wonder many top athletes take dance classes in addition to their other training (Kobe Bryant dances) or (

And finally…

3. Dance Prevents Dizziness

In this study, the brains of 58 right-handed (don’t worry, that part is relevant!) women (29 full-time ballet students with an average of 16 years experience and 29 age-matched control subjects) were studied.  They were all subjected to the same physical tests – aka made dizzy – while scans were taken of their brain’s reactions and ability to stabilize.  (It was important to have all the dancers be right-side dominant to get consistent results based on the direction they were spun.  Right side dominant dancers spin to their right, and lefties spin left.)  The results were: that dancers’ brains developed differently from the control group’s brains.  The evidence shows that a ballet dancer’s brain becomes more efficient at fighting the effects of dizziness.  They were more resistant to other tests that would cause vertigo.  

What does this mean for you? When you start exposing your brain to dizziness regularly, you’ll be more likely to combat accidental dizziness too!

Well, that’s all for now, I know this was a bit more of a scientific vibe.  It’s important to me that I share all the reasons why dance is such a passion of mine!  From the experience of dancing, teaching dance, and connecting to dancers and their families, all the way to the scientifically proven benefits it has to your brain!  There are so many reasons to love dance and so many reasons we at GRDA strive to make it accessible to everyone, not just the dancers in our classes!

I hope you found another reason to get out there and shake your groove thing!