Dance and the brain: a review

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2015 Mar;1337:140-6. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12632.


Dance is a universal form of human expression that offers a rich source for scientific study. Dance provides a unique opportunity to investigate brain plasticity and its interaction with behavior. Several studies have investigated the behavioral correlates of dance, but less is known about the brain basis of dance. Studies on dance observation suggest that long- and short-term dance training affect brain activity in the action observation and simulation networks. Despite methodological challenges, the feasibility of conducting neuroimaging while dancing has been demonstrated, and several brain regions have been implicated in dance execution. Preliminary work from our laboratory suggests that long-term dance training changes both gray and white matter structure. This article provides a critical summary of work investigating the neural correlates of dance. It covers functional neuroimaging studies of dance observation and performance as well as structural neuroimaging studies of expert dancers. To stimulate ongoing dialogue between dance and science, future directions in dance and brain research as well as implications are discussed. Research on the neuroscience of dance will lead to a better understanding of brain-behavior relationships and brain plasticity in experts and nonexperts and can be applied to the development of dance-based therapy programs.

Keywords: action observation; brain plasticity; dance; neuroimaging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Child
  • Dancing*
  • Humans
  • Movement
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Time Factors