The Scottish Country Dancer
Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Southwest Washington State Branch
Volume 36 #5
March/April 2020

The Dancing Brain

by Tom Halpenny

Geoffrey and Cecily Selling's book A Handbook for Scottish Country Dance Teachers - Fourth Edition explores the what content of teaching Scottish dancing, and techniques and tools that are the how part of teaching. The chapter titled Learning to Dance explores why teaching methods are effective. "Not every person learns the same way. People learn through various modalities. They learn through seeing, hearing, moving and touching. The primary way all of us learn dance is by watching then moving. Research has shown that most of us absorb about 85% of our information through our eyes. Demonstration should be your primary tool in teaching any element of Scottish country dancing. However, dance is a type of movement and must be learned by moving." The chapter discusses variables in learning: Preferred modality, Patterns and repetition, Readiness to learn, Stress levels, Memory, Attention, Language, Motor skills, Organization of time and space, Social aspects of learning.

I am interested to connect the dancing learning process to how the brain (and nervous system) operates as two independent systems: the intellectual side (neocortex) and the emotional side (limbic). The intellectual side processes language and performs logical reasoning, and performs a supervisory function. The emotional side communicates with feelings that are automatic, and does not understand language. Both sides must collaborate to perform the dancing skill.

The intellectual side is able to perform only one task at a time. The multitasking concept is a myth, requiring a person to suspend one task in order to perform another task. For example, having a conversation while reading is ineffective. The dancing skill is actually a bundle of skills that are performed concurrently. For example, we can view a list of Scottish Dancing Skills from the RSCDS Dancing Achievement Award assessment form. Since the intellectual side can only perform one task at a time, other tasks must be performed concurrently by the emotional side. Each skill is a feedback system that involves learning a feeling, the so called muscle memory. It is important to practise skills accurately to avoid forming inaccurate feeling habits which are challenging to unlearn. The operative senses which are connected to the dancing brain systems are: hearing, sight, and touch-kinesthetic. (Smell and taste senses are inoperative with the dancing brain.) The kinesthetic sense relates to a person's awareness of the position and movement of the parts of the body by means of sensory organs in the muscles and joints.

Hearing and sight are connected to both sides of the dancing brain. The intellectual side listens to words and interprets symbol content related to language. The emotional side listens to rhythmic music and sees movements and patterns. Touch-kinesthetic on the emotional side enables performing dancing skills: steps, traveling, handing, posture.

According to Selling, dancing "must be learned by moving." A teacher's demonstrating with visual and musical input utilizes a direct channel to the dancers' emotional side. Speaking with language communicates to the intellectual side's supervisory function that can only coordinate or reinforce feeling skills that the emotional side has learned.

from RSCDS Dancing Achievement Award assessment form

A Handbook for Scottish Country Dance Teachers - Fourth Edition 2012 - Geoffrey & Cecily Selling
Simon Sinek: "The Golden Circle" Neocortex = rational analytical language, Limbic = feelings no-language
Switch - Chip Heath & Dan Heath - 2010 Rider = rational side, Elephant = emotional side
Ballet Training Pedagogy Feeling before the form - Learning from the inside out
How to Learn Scottish Dancing in 20 Hours Learn dancing with the entire brain: intellectual and emotional
Learning Folk Dancing Gain the feeling of moving to music