Developed by dance educator and author, Anne Green Gilbert, the BrainDance is a full body-brain exercise based on developmental movement patterns that healthy human beings naturally move through in the first year of life. These movements help to integrate reflexes that are the foundation for healthy brain development. The movements develop our whole brain (brain stem, mid-brain/limbic system, and cortex). As babies, we did these brain-developing movements on the floor. As children and adults, we continue to review these patterns in a variety of ways to keep our brains and bodies strong. Cycling through these patterns daily or weekly may also fill in missing gaps in our sensory-motor system due to birth trauma, lack of floor time as an infant, or illness or head injury as a child or adult.

BrainDance is an excellent full body and brain warm-up for children and adults and can be done in any setting. The BrainDance may be used as a warm-up for any physical activity; before tests, performances, and presentations; after sitting for long periods of time; as a break during computer work and TV watching; and to increase energy and reduce stress. It is a centering body/brain movement tool for brain reorganization, oxygenation, and recuperation. The BrainDance prepares us for learning and helps with appropriate behavior and social skills.

Current brain research has proven that exercise:

  • Improves cognition and delays dementia by increasing the protein in our brain cells 
  • Reduces depression by increasing the flow of serotonin and dopamine (feel good chemicals)
  • Maintains flexibility through the release of synovial fluid in our joints
  • Develops core strength
  • Reduces fatigue and stress
  • Increases attention and focus
     

The BrainDance is exercise “plus.” Besides the benefits listed above, the movements replicate neurodevelopmental patterns that help to wire the central nervous system in our first twelve months. These movements lay the foundation for sensory-motor development and life long learning. The BrainDance is a supportive exercise that can help to keep the brain and body strong and healthy throughout one’s lifetime. 

Benefits of the BrainDance

Reorganization of the neurological system: The developmental movement patterns help to wire the central nervous system laying the foundation for sensory-motor development and life long learning. When patterns are missed or disrupted there may be missing gaps in a person’s neurological development. These gaps may cause neurological dysfunction that may later appear as learning disabilities, behavior disorders, memory problems, sleep disorders, speech, balance or filtering problems, and other difficulties that may disrupt the flow of normal development. Cycling through the BrainDance patterns on a daily basis may correct flaws in a person’s perceptual process and reorganize the central nervous system to better develop proprioception, balance, attention, memory, eye-tracking, behavior, sensory integration, and motor skills. 
 

Increased blood and oxygen flow to the respiratory system and brain: Because oxygen and blood are food for the brain, deep breathing and aerobic exercise are essential for a fully functioning brain and body. Oxygenation reduces stress and brings flow and ease to all movement. Blood and oxygen in the brain improves ability to stay focused during class.

Enhanced core support, connectivity, and alignment: The BrainDance reviews for us the early baby patterns that lay down structure in the neuromuscular system, influence brain development, and help us cope with the world in an embodied way. These patterns, done in an orderly progression, help us remember the parts of our visceral and muscular system that support our body structure. Each pattern underlies and supports the next pattern. When done in succession, they bring a wholeness, aliveness, and connectivity to our use of the body, which reflects an integration of body and mind. By separating the eight patterns we become more aware of each pattern. This allows us to focus on a particular pattern to ease blocked body/mind areas. The developmental patterns are the foundation for all movement. Patterns establish internal and external gradated rotation in proximal joints, laying foundation for easeful alignment in the upper and lower body. Awareness of body mechanics and inner connectivity develops stronger technique, physical balance, and coordination needed for performing complex sequences of movements in sports and dance.

Deeper understanding of the elements of dance technique: Focusing on BrainDance patterns at the beginning of class helps dancers become more articulate and expressive as the developmental movement patterns are an integral part of every dance style. The first four patterns of the BrainDance are fundamental to performing any form of dance. The last four patterns dancers practice daily: pliés and port de bras (Upper-Lower), tendus, battements, (Body Side), center work (Cross Lateral), turns and springs (Vestibular). Whether taking a Ballet, Modern, Jazz, African, or Creative Dance class, students who have warmed-up with the BrainDance are able to integrate and apply the patterns to their technical skill development. Movement intent becomes clearer as dancers embody the BrainDance patterns. Dancers gain a new vocabulary that allows them to be more articulate physically and verbally. The BrainDance patterns provide a new entry point for teaching mechanics of steps and movement (e.g. chainé turns use the Body Side pattern).

“Emerging research shows that physical activity sparks biological changes that encourage brain cells to bind to one another. For the brain to learn, these connections must be made…The more neuroscientists discover about this process, the clearer it becomes that exercise provides an unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment in which the brain is ready, willing, and able to learn.” ~ John Ratey, SPARK: The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain.

BrainDance Patterns

Breath
Tactile
Core
Distal
Head Tail
Upper Lower
Body Side
Cross Lateral
Vestibular
No one part of the central nervous system works alone. Messages must go back and forth from one part to another, so that touch can aid vision, vision can aid balance, balance can aid body awareness, body awareness can aid movement, movement can aid learning, and so forth.
~Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A.

These patterns are explored in each BranDance class integrating dance concepts and utilizing a variety of movements, dance styles, music, and props allowing for a balance of repetition and novelty. 

It is a fun and effective warm-up that is sequential and holistic!
 

How the Patterns Developed

The baby does his or her own BrainDance very naturally in the first twelve months of life if put on a smooth, non-carpeted surface on the floor. Carpets and blankets may inhibit developmental movement once a baby begins to initiate movement. Baby moves most successfully when hands, legs, and feet are bare (as in a onesie”). Caregivers may enhance baby’s development through interaction and shared play on the floor. In other words, floor time is healthy for babies and adults!
 

  •   Baby’s first breath initiates dendritic branching from brain cells.
  •   Tactile stimulation begins with the first touch of skin on skin. Bonding is developed through close contact with loving caregivers. The sensory-motor system is developed as baby explores a variety of objects and textures. 
  •   In the first two months of life the baby will reach into space in order to connect with her environment (extension) and curl back into the womb position (flexion), demonstrating the core distal pattern.
  •   At two months the baby has better head control and will lift and turn the head in both directions continuing the head tail pattern begun in the womb.
  •   Upper and lower body halves are strengthened as the baby pushes with the arms and hands and then with feet and knees. Near and far vision is also developed.
  •   Between five and seven months, the baby reaches with one side of the body, moving the left half of the body as one unit and then the right half. After integrating the body side belly crawl, the baby may move in a cross lateral belly crawl. As the baby crawls on her belly she will develop horizontal eye tracking.
  •   Between seven and nine months, baby pushes herself up onto hands and knees and repeats the upper lower push-pull pattern. Baby then creeps on hands and knees in a body side pattern before creeping on hands and knees in a cross lateral pattern. Vertical eye tracking is part of the growth triggered by creeping on hands and knees. The convergence of horizontal and vertical eye tracking is essential for reading. From one-year onward cross lateral patterns appear in walking, running, and eventually skipping.
  • The vestibular system begins developing in utero, stimulated by the mother’s movement. This system continues to be very active through the first fifteen months of life as baby is rocked, held in different positions, and independently rolls, creeps and sits up. The vestibular system analyzes movements through the whole body, helps us know where we are in space, and links up to all forms of sensory information. This very important system is used when we read, hear, speak, touch, balance, and move.

 “All learning in the first fifteen months of life is centered on vestibular system development. The word vestibular means entryway, and this system is the entry way into the conscious brain. Balance, locomotion, discrimination of speech and language, coordination of vision with movement, all these fundamental abilities, which we learn early and rely on the rest of our lives depend upon the proper functioning of the vestibular system.” Carla Hannaford, Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head (2nded.).