Wednesday, September 25, 2013

3rd Lesson - Dance and the Brain

Their pretty new dance class attire showed up this week!  They were both very excited I let them pick out the style and color for their uniforms.  My real motive was to get them to work together and find something they both could agree on which is not usually an easy task.  In this case, two great minds think alike. They even found a matching dress for Mommy in black.

 Continuing with the human body theme, this week their school focused on the brain. That is where I placed the focus when planning this lesson.

The brain is so fascinating. It is the control center to our body.  During this week at their school the girls learned about the 4 lobes of their brain and how the brain controls emotions, senses and holds memories.  I wanted the girls to see images from an MRI scan how our brains respond as different areas light up.   

I found a NOVA short on youtube as it goes inside Oliver Sack's brain while he listens to two composers, Beethoven and Bach.  Before showing the girls the film I let them listen to both composers and give me their opinion.  Estee preferred Bach because he was easier to dance too and Coppelia informed me that she liked them both but thought Beethoven was cooler because he was also deaf.  The girls watched the video and were fascinated by the images of the brains reactions, but even more fascinating to them was the part when Mr. Sack's was confused and couldn't differentiate the two composers, but yet through the scans we could see that his brain still preferred Bach.

During our lesson we talked about what the brain was doing and how it was responding.  We looked in the mirror. I waved my hand I asked them to do the same.  I then explained how they were able to do this.  Our movement starts in the motor cortex. I then touched their heads, giving them an idea as to where this area was inside their heads (in the back of the frontal lobe).  The motor cortex calls on all the parts of the brain to get more information and then sends that information down our spine (drawing my finger down their spine) to our bones and muscles as they move and wave.  When we are dancing, our brains are going crazy with information and all that information is being sent all over our bodies.

At the barre we discussed muscle memory.  

What is muscle memory?
I gave an example of learning to ride a bike.  I learned to ride a bike when I was a little girl. When I was young, we had a house fire and I lost my bike and didn't ride one for a very long time. The girls got me one for Mother's day 20 years later and I was easily able to start riding without having to learn again because that information was stored in my muscle memory.

 There are 2 parts to muscle memory and we are in stage 1.  During this stage the brain is active in the motor cortex (located in the frontal lobe) and somatosensory, or sensory cortex, (located in the parietal lobe).  These are the area's that are processing the information and waiting for correction.  We do our plié's and relevé's very slowly because Mommy is on the floor giving important correction that their brain is processing.  It is much easier to learn the correct way from the beginning rather then reteach later as we try and break bad habits.  Once we have learned our plié's and relevé's, the activity in our motor and sensory cortices (all the parts that light up in the scan) shrink and all that information gets stored. Scientist don't know where that is yet.  

picture from last week

Did you know that inside our brain we have an internal clock or metronome?  This clock is what sets our pace throughout the day and things like lack of sleep can slow this clock down, and with it our ability to process information. Scientists call this temporal processing.  In fact researchers have discovered that many language and learning disabilities may be due to a split-second delay in the brain's ability to process.  This processing time can be exercised and sharpened with movement and music activities. Or for higher intensity, a professional program like interactive metronome therapy.  This is not just a program for kids. It has also been used with professional athletes wanting to improve their game.  

There is a connection that is made with the brain when we hit the beat. I feel it is very important when working with young students to choose music with a strong, slow beat that gives them the opportunity to make this connection.  I sometimes choose to go without music for certain activities and only use the  metronome so we can focus on the beat alone or add education elements to go along with the steady beat such as counting, reciting the ABC's and simple songs or poems.

I explained to the girls that temporal processing happens in the temporal lobe near the ear.  Sound, or the beat on the metronome that we use in lessons, hits our ear and then our brain has to process that information. Then we respond to the information with our movement, such as a tap or a clap.  It's really like the fastest race our body does daily. Just like a professional runner in the olympics, we have to exercise this ability so that we can get faster and faster.  

In order to further illustrate my point we created the neuron races!

With our belly on the scooter boards, we became the neurons.  When we were given the sound or beat at the ear (point #1 - image of ear) the girls put the ball between their knees and raced to the Motor cortex (point #2 - image of brain).  There we gathered information by using our hands to sweep scarfs into a pile.  Then with the ball still between our knees we raced down the spine to the finishing point.

Wow, those neurons move super fast!  But with practice we can shave a few milliseconds from our processing time.

As you can see we added brains to our human body. With a lesson like this we were easily able to come up with 3 interesting facts.

~ On a side note~

I found a great new site that had almost everything on our dance attire wish list, including these wear moi dresses.  The girls were super excited that the dress also came in my size and now we officially have our first Mommy/Daughter matching dresses.  One of the girls is more particular about her feet and how things feel. Can't say that I blame her. I remember hating tights and still having to put them on everyday.  I seem to have finally found the winner for her picky feet. Sansha canvas slippers and ballet socks.  Ballet socks are impossible to find here in the states. I actually had to order from the UK (everything is better there) but as a mother and teacher I far prefer them to tights especially on those 100 degree days!  My new challenge has become getting her out of them since she seems to think they are so comfortable.

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