Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dancing Makes You Smarter!

This won't be news to my dancing friends:

Dancing makes you smarter, especially if you're continuing to learn new dances and movements. Additional mind/body connections enhance your brain power and make you even more beautiful. (OK, that's not in the study, but I'm sure it applies to you.)

The more dances you learn, the more you stay out of your existing comfort zone, the more your brain benefits. It's not just a better body, it's a better you.

You already know that, because you are already way smarter than your friends, but now we know why you're so smart. (Some people might think about me, "Hmmm, how dumb would he be if he didn't dance?" but I'll pretend those people aren't my closest friends... ;)

Since you've been dancing you've been telling everybody you feel better and clearly you look better. A recent study revealed that partner dancing is best, and follows automatically grow additional brain power from partner dancing.

To paraphrase Richard Powers, a dance instructor at Stanford University: Follows don't really "follow," they actually interpret the cues from their leads, making hundreds of "in the moment" decisions during each dance. The more decisions per dance, the more brain power is enhanced.

Leads can also benefit from partner dancing, if they are also changing the dance based on the real-time music and their partners responses. Leads grow their brain power while learning new patterns, new dances and movements, and interpreting the music in real time.

In others words, follows have to be in the moment, waiting for your lead, so they enhance their thinking just being in the game. If leads want to maximize growth, they have to be sure they aren't just stringing together mindless patterns they have memorized previously.

It's making the real-time decisions based on your partner and the music that enhances your brain power. Adjusting and reacting to your partner makes it a better dance, and a better future too.

Related Articles:
Richard Powers Blog (inspiration for this article)
Original Study from New England Journal of Medicine (a bit dry)


  1. Bit of an extrapolation to say that it makes you smart (though understandable, but the study isn't looking at that) - the main findin bing that dancing was the only physical activity they looked at that had an associated decreased risk of dementia.
    So less proving it makes you smarter, more that it'll stave off senility!

    Also - looking at Table 2, it's not enough just to do infrequent dancing - only the group that did "frequent dancing" ie 2 or more times a week.

    They had 3 possible explanations for the association, 1 of which was a true causal effect of dancing - they didn't really fully prove it was causal, but interesting to follow up.

  2. Tom,

    Agreed on some of the details and obviously this is a generalization. (One study rarely "proves" anything.)

    I was too lazy to include some of the other sources I've read, including "Brain Workout" by Arthur Winter, MD. (neurosurgeon and director of the New Jersey Neurological Institute).

    The general conclusion is activities that exercise the brain build brain power. The brain is amazingly plastic in it's ability to build and repair over time.

    Partner dancing exercises both mind and body. I suspect the same "use it or lose it" principles apply.

    Frequency: Not surprising that you need to do something two or more times per week to get any building benefits.

    Like most subjects, this one will take years to get absolute, irrefutable results. There are other studies and cases with similar results showing the brain building with the right activities.

    I think we should all just keep dancing, since few started it to build brain power, that's just a positive side effect IF it's real. If not we'll just keep having fun.

    Your input is appreciated and valued. Nice to have someone dig down into the details. You are respectful and thoughtful, and that is always welcomed here!!!!

  3. I don't think that Richards reasoning about how follow profit more is very much supported by the study.

    The study didn't mention that the effect was gender specific.

    According to Richards reasoning a basketball player would have to make lots of decisions during a game and would probably train his brain.
    This study however found that playing physical
    team games doesn't help.

    The social part of partner dancing and being close to another person could also have an effect.

    The study didn't compare partner dancing to nonpartner dancing.

    It could be that dancing to music is the key that improves your mental abilities.

    Dancing also improves balance. Other studies suggest that improving balance improves your intelligence.

    The study didn't test whether infrequent dancing helps. In their data everyone who isn't dancing frequently is dancing rarely. There no category for people who don't dance.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero