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make your day dance

Dance — an intellectual exercise

October 4th, 2009 · 2 Comments · Tags: ··

Another note from my sister on the subject of John Ratey & his work:

“I just came back from a talk by Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey on the relationship between exercise and learning. His final comment in the presentation, during the question and answer period, was this:  “I think dance is the ultimate best exercise.” [John Ratey, M.D., 10/1/09, Drake Center, Fort Collins, CO]  He indicated that he thought this because dance combines physical with intellectual engagement.”

It’s probably coincidental that John Ratey’s book on the benefits of exercise is called Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. It’s on my to-read list, but meanwhile its title — and John Ratey’s quote about dance as the ultimate exercise — remind me of Sparks of Genius: The 13 Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People by Robert & Michele Root-Bernstein.  Sparks of Genius is a book I’ve referenced often while trying to elucidate the kinesthetic intelligence for pre-service teachers in a graduate level summer course I teach.

In Sparks of Genius, the Root-Bernsteins explore the territory of how creative people get & nurture their ideas. By exploring journals, letters, reports & memoirs from eminent thinkers, creators & inventors (the likes of Albert Einstein, Arthur C. Clarke, Pablo Picasso & Helen Keller), the authors identified “a common set of thinking tools at the heart of creative understanding:”  observing, imaging, abstracting, recognizing patterns, forming patterns, analogizing, body thinking, emphathizing, dimensional thinking, modeling, playing, transforming, and synthesizing.  Creative thinkers have their preferred methods from among this list, and each tool can come to life in its own way.  Nonetheless, I have this list posted next to my desk in the classroom because every one of the 13 thinking tools occurs with frequency in a dance class.

  • Students observe each other, both as fellow dancers and as an audience.
  • While dancing or choreographing, movement flows from images.
  • Choreographers abstract reality in order to express it, paring away peripheral details in order to reveal the essence of an idea.
  • Dancers recognize patterns in both music & choreography.
  • Dancers form patterns while dancing, improvising & choreographing.
  • In order to express a concept in dance, a choreographer has to draw analogies between ideas & movement concepts (thus, water is to land as flow is to shape).
  • Dancers use body thinking to generate ideas.
  • Taking on the posture & movement of a character creates understanding through empathy.
  • It takes dimensional thinking to bring ideas to life on bodies.
  • A choreographer uses bodies to model & try out ideas.
  • It’s clear from the sounds of laughter during dance improvisations that improvisation is play.
  • Creating or performing a dance transforms ideas & feelings into experience & visual images.
  • A dance synthesizes ideas, feelings, music, social interaction & emotions into a physical experience.

… thoughts sparked by John Ratey’s reported comment that dance is the ultimate best exercise.  And by way of clarifying the depth to which dance combines physical with intellectual engagement. Dance does pack a whollop.

2 Comments so far ↓

  • Deborah Robson

    . . . a book that John Ratey mentioned in his presentation that may be interesting (add to the pile?) is Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown. New this year.

    I think the *most* interesting thing about Ratey’s comment on dance was that the implied introduction was “But, of course. . . .”

  • megrm

    Brown’s Play is on my short list. Sometimes I can’t believe so many people miss the obvious — how many don’t get the “but of course…” things!