Learning dance requires a very unique skill set, a very specific and unique talent. But have we stopped to think about the nature and source of this body intelligence? What cognitive functions and processes are we using to develop our knowledge base? How can we encourage ourselves to become more connected to our deep reservoirs of intuition and creativity? And is it possible to train our brain in order to become a better dancer?
The first thing to consider is that a person’s intelligence is complex. There are many psychologists who no longer subscribe to the idea that a person’s intelligence can be summed up by the results of an IQ test. Howard Gardner’s theory of ‘multiple intelligences’ (1983, 1993) suggests that within any person there may exist different types of intelligence, he believes that: ‘Human beings are organisms who possess a basic set of intelligences’ and that each person possesses a unique combination of the following seven types: Linguistic intelligence, Logical-mathematical intelligence, Musical intelligence, Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence, Spatial intelligence, Interpersonal intelligence and Intrapersonal intelligence. (Smith, 2002, 2008)
According to this framework of multiple intelligences, it can safely be assumed that dancers (in particular) show high levels of Kinesthetic, Spatial and Musical intelligence. ‘Kinesthetic intelligence’ is the ability for using one’s body (as a whole or in part) to solve problems. It is also involves the application of one’s mental abilities to reproduce bodily movements with skill and coordination. ‘Spatial intelligence’ is one’s ability to recognize spatial patterns, visualise objects and solve spatial problems, whilst ‘Musical intelligence’ is the ability to recognize musical patterns and compose or reproduce musical elements such as pitch, tone, and rhythm. (Smith, 2002, 2008). On a daily basis, dancers manipulate their body movement with acute sensitivity to both spatial and musical elements and in effect these elements feel like ‘second nature’. Sometimes as dancers these perspectives become so integral to our mental processes that they become part of the way we think and perceive the world around us.
Aside from the obvious talents and skills that dancers possess, ‘Interpersonal’ and ‘Intrapersonal’ intelligences are likely to be at work within successful dancers. ‘Interpersonal intelligence’ is associated with the ability to work effectively with others and understand the motivations and desires of others. ‘Intrapersonal intelligence’ involves the ability to understand oneself, and to recognise one’s emotions and motivations. (Smith, 2002, 2008). In this sense intelligence can be thought of as a kind of awareness. In cognitive therapy, it is known that becoming aware of a problematic behaviour or pattern is the most important step in overcoming it. As dancers this can be applied to our daily practice. If we are not able to observe our own habits and gain an awareness of ourselves how can we expect to grow and improve?
The intelligent dancer for example, will not rely solely on corrections from the teacher as a source of motivation. As dancers we learn to develop an inner dialogue, a kind of self-analysis or conversation with our body that is informative and provides feedback for ourselves. This feedback expands our awareness of why and how we perform actions, make decisions and interact with other dancers. It is important that we become self-aware of our strengths, weaknesses, body’s limitations, movement preferences, attitudes and even our emotions. Becoming aware of these aspects of ourselves as dancers will not only give us the ability to be self-critical, (in the positive sense of the word), by helping us to make improvements, but it will also open us up to the larger questions like; Why do I dance? and Who am I as a dancer?
The good news is that recent research in brain science indicates that your brain is changing all the time. Whilst we once believed that you we were stuck with the genetic potential that you were given at birth, scientists now believe that your brain is also shaped by your experiences and behaviours throughout our lifetime and it is possible to ‘train’ your brain into a healthier and ‘smarter’ existence. (Arden, 2010 p. 1) For dancers this news is encouraging. This means that we can actively participate in becoming better dancers by allowing our brains to absorb dance knowledge in all its facets, essentially thinking ourselves into becoming better performers and dance makers. Becoming great dancer and meeting your full potential may not a pre-determined equation. The sky is the limit and all you need to do is put ‘mind over matter’.
Written by Elise May
Smith, Mark K. (2002, 2008) ‘Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences’, the encyclopedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm.
Arden, John B. (2010) ‘Rewire Your Brain’, Think your way to a better life, John Wiley and Sons, New Yersey.
Grove, R. Stevens, C. and McKechnie S. (2005) ‘Thinking in Four Dimentions’, Creativity and Cognition in Contemporary Dance, Melbourne Univesity Press, Melbourne.
This article was written for Dancehub digital dance magazine. To visit Dancehub Australia, click here