Ballet Brain

The areas corresponding to balance in the brains of trained ballet dancers differ from those of non-dancers.

By | September 30, 2013

FLICKR, NATIONAL LIBRARY OF AUSTRALIABallet dancers must turn, spin, and leap through the air, all without disrupting their vestibular systems, which contribute to balance and cause dizziness when disturbed.

In a study published in Cerebral Cortex on September 26, scientists from Imperial College London showed that, during a test of vestibular function, trained ballerinas’ perception and physical symptoms of dizziness ended sooner than for members of a non-dancer control group. The researchers then used MRI to assess the brains of both dancers and controls. They found that being a dancer correlated with reduced gray matter density in the area of the cerebellum associated with vestibular processing. Senior author Barry Seemungal attributed this difference to the limited helpfulness of the vestibular system for ballet dancers.

“It’s not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance,” he said in a statement. “Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input.”

Additionally, the researchers showed that being a dancer is correlated with increased gray matter density in an area of the prefrontal cortex that has been implicated in balance training.

Beyond giving insight into the brains of dancers, the study could help patients that have problems with chronic dizziness. “The signal going to the brain areas responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy. If we can target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic dizziness, we can begin to understand how to treat them better,” explained Seemungal in the statement.

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