A perfect pas de deux is on the road to wisdom

June 28, 2016

As a dance aficionado, I know this art form is intensely demanding on a physical level and requires total dedication. I’m also aware of its mental needs: the intensity of concentration allied to the body’s strength and flexibility.

When it comes together we reach a sort of sublime transcendence. You can see it in a dancer such as Carlos Acosta who may perform a perfect hortensia, looking almost as though he is swimming in the air. Then, I see ballet as magic, more than physical exercise.

Ballet may yet be something more than that too: a step on the road to wisdom. An interesting study published in February in PLOS One suggests that regular ballet classes and lessons may improve brain power. The research carried out by the University of Chicago’s Department of Psychology had been aimed at assessing a possible link between meditation and the gaining of wisdom.

Dancing had been included merely for comparison purposes, and the research team had not been expecting to find it was associated with wisdom. The team’s members were left surprised. Patrick Williams, lead author and a postdoctoral researcher admitted: “The link between ballet and wisdom is mysterious to us and something that we’re already investigating further.”

This includes studies with adult practitioners of ballet, as well as among novices training at Chicago’s famous Joffrey Ballet. Williams wants to track novices and seasoned practitioners of both meditation and ballet for months and years to see whether the association holds up over time.

I am not surprised at the powerful effect of ballet on the mind. The seminal American modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham said: “Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body.”

Meanwhile, the artist and choreographer Pina Bausch, founder of the Tanztheater Wuppertal, used dance to challenge and stimulate the mind of the viewer. David Bowie was so influenced he drew from her work for his 1987 Glass Spiders tour.

What is it about dance that speaks to us so deeply? For Bausch some of the power was in repetitive movements, which she believed had different meaning every time they were performed. And I can imagine that new emotions allied to perfect repeated muscle memories will create healthy neural pathways throughout the brain.

Could this be the source of wisdom, the constant stimulation of the brain while in perfect harmony with the body? It is at the very least stimulation for the soul.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation