Thursday, July 10, 2008

Left or Right Brain? Should I Care? Part 2

It's amazing how a set of people will see this spinning dancer differently. (This is Part 2 of the series. Click here to read part 1.)

While there’s some controversy about the accuracy of this graphic helping you to define left vs. right brain dominance, most people have a dominate side, with some more extreme than others.

The spinning dancer works because it doesn’t provide complete information. Your mind fills in missing information, and the still shots (below) highlight the two ways you see the same images.

The white lines are what your mind is filling in for you (see image below), providing your sense for the turning direction. With the white lines, the extended leg is clearly in the front or back, rather than being left to your imagination.

While it’s natural to have a dominate side of the brain, dancers want both sides of their body working together, creating balance.

Spinning Dancer With White Lines Added
In other words, in a perfect dance world dancers would be more ambidextrous, with emphasis on the word “more”. After learning a motion or dance skill on one side or direction, dancers want to easily mirror the movement with the other side or in the opposite direction. Once you’re spinning comfortably in one direction, ideally you want the same ease and grace spinning the other direction. Easier said than done, but the overall concept is to build more mind/body balance and coordination.

How can you help this aim of being more balanced and ambidextrous while off the dance floor? It’s deceptively simple; take your regular, mindless, day-to-day life skills and practice them with the opposite hand (or feet if appropriate).

If your right hand dominant, try moving your fork to your left hand for a month. If you’re primarily left handed, obviously you’ll try the right hand for a while. (For many it will also become a low-cost diet plan, since eating with the opposite hand often slows you down.)

Eating is a great place to start, but don’t try this the first time with your glammed out dancing outfit. Napkins and/or a bib can be helpful and most people are amazed how simple movements we take for granted are not so simple with the other hand. Start with a few changes and add over time.

Your goal is to take everything you do mindlessly, and start doing it with your non-dominate hand until switching is mindless. In some cases that will take two weeks, but some activities will take months or years. So what? You were going to do them anyway, so it’s not some huge time sink and it benefits you in the long run.

There are so many things we do with one hand we don’t even pay attention to how we do it. I make a game of it, trying to see how many things I can do with both hands. For me this started in high school (too many years ago) where rather than paying attention, I would write the alphabet in block letters with my left hand. My teachers thought I was taking great notes, and instead I was learning to print left handed.

If you grab a glass with your left hand, try drinking with your right hand instead. Squeeze toothpaste with your other hand. See how many things you can do off the dance floor, and over time it will make a positive difference on the floor. It also builds your brain power, creates new mind/body connections, and improves your eye-hand coordination skills. In many activities I’m functionally ambidextrous, but I’m always working on improving the mind/body connections.

I’ve read that building these skills does make you smarter, but you can’t prove that by me. In theory, anything you do to build new skills exercises your brain and is a long-term win.

Here are some starter ideas that I do regularly. Pick a couple that seem interesting to you and then add your own. The more you do, the easier it gets to add another. In my case, my “other hand” is my left hand; since my right hand is more dominate. One of my life goals is to be as ambidextrous as possible. Try these:
  • Eat with your fork and knife inverted (the knife took me a while)
  • Stir yogurt, coffee, tea or other food or drinks, stirring with your spoon in the other hand
  • Drink with your glass in the other hand
  • Cook, stir, and prepare food with the other hand (avoid cutting off fingers while learning)
  • Use your other hand to work the remote control with watching TV
  • Hold your smartphone with your other hand
  • Move your mouse to the other side of your keyboard or desk and switch hands
  • Brush your teeth with the other hand (invert the toothpaste squeezing too)
  • Shave with the other hand (best with electric razors, although manual is possible if you are careful)
  • Brush/comb your hair with alternate hands
  • Spray hair-spray, cologne or perfume with either hand
  • Put on lip balm, lip-stick and/or makeup with both hands
  • When you have paper and are sitting, try writing the alphabet and/or your name with your other hand (triangles, squares, circles and stick figures are also great practice)
  • Create text messages with both hands or just your non-dominant hand
  • Hold your phone to the other ear, dial any numbers with your other hand (not while driving)
  • Tie your shoes with the loops going the other way
  • When using chopsticks, switch the hands holding them
  • Going up or down stairs, start with the other foot (most people start with one foot or the other consistently unless they think about it)
I could go on, and that’s just a partial list to get you started. I’ve done almost all of them (I don't remember doing make-up) and you’ll think of a hundred more once you get going. And again, your goal is to provide yourself with more control over your body so when you dance, you learn moves faster than before, without investing normal practice time. Utilize your dance practice time for mastering the cool moves, and the more skilled your body is at movement, the faster you grow as a dancer.
To remind myself to practice switching hands, I like to move my wristwatch to the other arm. When I got my first wristwatch as a teenager, I wore it on my left arm. Today I switch it to the other arm, reminding me each time I look at my watch to do things with my less dominate hand/arm.
This system will not yield results overnight; but it’s a very low cost way to build new movement skills outside the dance floor. It’s a great mind/body connection game, it helps you long-term and it will improve your ability to learn new movements. It stretches your mind and builds your overall coordination, which benefits you both on and off the dance floor.
Give it a try and let me know what you think. I hope to hear about the activities you find to build your body balance.
Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered,
you cannot grow.
--Ronald Osburn


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero