Brain-Compatible Dance Education
"If you understand how people learn, you can use that information to structure dance classes that engage both bodies and brains. The aim is to develop holistic dancers of all ages who are skilled technicians, critical thinkers, successful collaborators, inventive creators, and thoughtful responders." - Anne Green Gilbert
My goal as a movement educator is to inform and shape the whole student, not just their body. I want my students to be able to follow, perform, create, reflect, and collaborate, while engaging their bodies and brains fully. I strive to accomplish this by using Anne Green Gilbert's 5 Part Lesson Plan structure and the BrainDance, and by creating unique and engaging curricula in enriching environments where communication, novelty, social interaction, and meaningful feedback are practiced.
BrainDance (to center body and mind)
Introduce the Concept (discuss and embody vocabulary focus of the day)
2) Exploring the Concept
Students explore the extremes of each concept through improvisation and collaborative games
3) Developing Skills
Teacher leads technique, introduces phrase-work or choreography, and musical awareness
Students either improvise or choreograph within a given prompt
5) Cool Down
Performing, reflecting, reviewing concept vocabulary, and cooling down as a group
*The lesson takes different shape depending on age of students, length of class, and technique, but the core values of creativity, communication, social interaction, and body awareness are ever-present*
The BrainDance is a full body-brain exercise based on developmental movement patterns that healthy human beings naturally move through in the first year of life. These movements integrate the primary reflexes that are the foundation for healthy brain development. The movements develop our whole brain (brain stem, mid-brain/limbic system, and cortex). As babies, we did these brain-developing movements on the floor. As children and adults, we continue to review these patterns in a variety of ways to keep our brains and bodies strong. Cycling through these patterns daily or weekly may also fill in missing gaps in our sensory-motor system due to birth trauma, lack of floor time as an infant, or illness or head injury as a child or adult.
Below I outline the patterns of the BrainDance, the primary reflexes with which they correspond, their body and brain development importance, and instructions for practicing:
5) Upper-Lower "Grounding"
Landau Reflex, Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR), Plantar Reflex
Connect to things and people, reaching for goals
Stabilize one half while moving other half
6) Body-Side "Making Choices"
Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR)
Stability and mobility, develops side dominance, develops horizontal eye-tracking
Stabilize one side while moving other side
7) Cross-Lateral "Robust Brain"
Integrates right and left brain, supports complexity and interconnectedness
Move opposite quadrants or cross midline
8) Vestibular "First Sense"
Moro Reflex and Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)
Proprioception and balance
Spin, tip, sway, swing - Boing! Whoosh! Roly Poly!
1) Breath "Oneness"
Breath supports all movement and enlivens the body
Deep breaths in through the nose, out through the mouth
2) Tactile "Sensing"
Grasp and Palmar Reflexes
Sensory integration and bonding, setting boundaries
Squeeze, tap, slap, brush, scratch, pat body
3) Core-Distal "Twoness"
Discovering center, whole body organization, and core support
Engage core, reach from the center out, curl to core
4) Head-Tail "Lively spine"
Spinal Galant and Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR)
Developing and using spinal curves
Bend, twist, wiggle whole spine
When I use the BrainDance in my classes, it may take a variety of forms. For preschool-age and below, we practice nursery rhymes at the beginning of each class that move us through the patterns. For older students and adults, we can do the BrainDance individually, with a partner, or with a group. Once students gain an understanding for the patterns and all of the movement possibilities in their bodies, they can create their own BrainDances and devise new ways to warm themselves up.