Week 1: Studying Dance, One Step at a Time

Feb 19, 2019

Even though I was quiet at school, the stage is where I have always shined. From the age of 5, I have been heavily involved in dance – specifically Bollywood.

Bollywood dance has many misconceptions about it (e.g. singing and dancing in the fields, the elaborate costumes, and of course, the “twisting the lightbulb” dance step). My personal experience in dance has found truth in some of these ideas (especially the costumes), but has been greatly shaped by the rich culture that this art form encompasses. Through my nearly thirteen years of dance experience, I have had the opportunity to learn various dance styles, perform nationally, and compete. Due to my passion for this activity, going into senior project, I knew that I wanted to continue pursuing this hobby.

My other strong passion is neuroscience, specifically my obsession with the role of mitochondria in neurodegenerative diseases. While this passion simply started with Ms. Zhao’s “pick the organelle” game in honors biology, I have now explored this topic in depth.

In contemplating my subject for senior project, I looked back at all these experiences and realized that these two diverse subjects had common ground  – the neuroscience of dance.

The study of the  brain extends to almost every aspect of our lives, but at first, my project seemed far-fetched. As I began exploring existing literature, I found some interesting connections. What really interested me was the idea of the brain being an organ, yet acting like a muscle.The weird coincidence is that brain and muscle cells are most abundant in the mitochondria. These findings and the known benefits of exercise on the brain lead me to pursue this project.

In conducting my senior project during the first week, I read papers, did an initial data collection, and met with both my mentors. Here is a summary of each of the papers:

Dance Experience and Associations with Cortical Gray Matter Thickness in the Aging Population

I learned that both music and exercise are associated with increased gray matter thickness and improved cognitive functioning. Also, compared with dancers, inexperienced dancers had thinner gray matter in the primary motor, somatosensory, and prefrontal regions of the brain (areas highly implicated with motor coordination and initiation).

The Powerful Psychological Benefits of Dance

This article explained that expert dancers displayed enhanced theta wave synchronization when watching a dance piece. These theta waves are linked to emotion, memory, and the synching up of deeper brain areas. Additionally, when people dance with others, brains of dancers become attuned to the same frequency. Lastly, self-reported assessments from dancers expressed less risk for depression and quality of life scores.

The Influences of Exercise on Cognitive Abilities

This reading showed that exercise promotes resistance against neurological disorders. Additionally, there were elevated levels of brain-derived growth factor in the brains of dancers, thereby enhancing adult neurogenesis. With respect to the mitochondrion, there are enhanced levels of ROS produced, but these molecules are buffered by exercise, due to the  promotion of plasticity and neurogenesis.

Data Collection

In collecting data, games from Lumosity, a brain training network, will be used. I decided on the games and chose the categories I will be testing for – attention, flexibility, speed, and spatial memory.

A primary data collection was done on students at Evergreen Valley College in a modern contemporary class. The sample size only consisted of six students, so conclusive results can’t be made. Two data points from each member were collected (one before and one after) the class. These data points all pointed to enhancement of these skills.  

After speaking with both my internal and external advisors, I have now added some modifications to my experiment for future trials. Additionally, I hope to work with dance therapy for Parkinson’s groups, the Alzheimer’s Association, and a postdoc for fMRI scans for this project.

Stay tuned for more next week,

Anjali Sadarangani

5 Replies to “Week 1: Studying Dance, One Step at a Time”

  1. Swarit J. says:

    Sounds interesting, Anjali! I’m excited to learn more about this project.

  2. Ms. McLean says:

    Hi Anjali,

    Since we’ve talked much more in detail about your project in person, I’m going to comment on the writing itself today. I love the background and context you’ve given for readers to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. Once you get into your “data collection” section, I lose your voice a bit and syntax slips to passive voice a few times. Remember, especially here in this less formal format, to write actively and with purpose in your voice!

    See you later!

  3. Ivana B says:

    This one of a few projects that combines a student’s scientific interest and their hobby, and I am really excited to see your results. It is an awesome idea, and I believe you’ll see it through in best possible way.

  4. Jaydev B. says:

    Can I please be a test subject in your experiment?

  5. Ray L. says:

    This sounds like an amazing project! Music and the arts always seemed to have a profound effect on the brain and creativity. Can’t wait to see what you discover!

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