Ballet Alters Dancers' Brains

Could help people who suffer chronic dizziness
By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 29, 2013 4:50 PM CDT
Ballet Alters Dancers' Brains to Spin Without Dizziness
Dancers of the National Ballet of China perform on the stage of the Chatelet theatre in Paris.   (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

Ballet dancers aren't like the rest of us. And it's not just their tiny waistlines and ability to stand on the tips of their toes—the dancing alters their brains. A new study has found years of ballet training changes dancers' brain structure, so they can spin around and around without getting dizzy, the BBC reports. The study pitted 29 ballerinas against 20 female rowers of similar age and fitness, spun each around in a chair, and did MRI scans on their brains. The scans turned up differences in the cerebellum and cerebral cortex between the two groups; the dancers reported feeling dizzy for a "significantly" shorter period after spinning, the AFP reports.

"It's not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance. Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input," says Dr. Barry Seemungal, who led the study at Imperial College London, per the BBC. "Consequently, the signal going to the brain areas responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy." What can science do with this new info? Use it to help treat people suffering chronic dizziness. "If we can target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic dizziness," says Seemungal, "we can begin to understand how to treat them better." (More ballet stories.)

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