Dream Your Dance, Dance Your Dream
By Ann Taylor, Ph.D.

Where there is a dancer, there are issues of dance floor space, practice space, cost, time, physical endurance and partnership.

Competitions or performance engagements intensify these issues for dancers. People retain about ten percent of material presented in an hour. The possibility exists to retain a greater percentage.

In 5 to 15 minutes, while sitting in your office chair or recliner, you can achieve the benefits of an hour of physical practice. Are you interested? If so, read on.

The mind and body are an intricate interactive feedback system which reacts to both conscious and unconscious thoughts. The brain is made up of two hemispheres, which do some, but not all of the same things. The mind can be in conflict with itself. One hemisphere may be working on one thing while the other may be doing something different.

When this occurs, the body is receiving conflicting messages. Each thought we have creates electrical activity and a cascade of chemical changes in the brain and body. This information travels from the brain to the body and from the body back to the brain. To experience this phenomenon, we only have to remember, in detail, a highly embarrassing moment in our lives. As we do, the blood rushes to the surface of our face, neck and arms. We blush. This is a visible, tangible demonstration of the interaction between mind and body. The event is being replayed by the mind. The body cannot distinguish between events being imagined and events as they happen in the present.

Muscles respond to neuronal activity in the brain. Muscles can grow, lengthen, strengthen, weaken or atrophy with physical activity or lack of it. Muscles cannot remember. Neuronal activity begins in the brain. Chemical changes occur. Memories are established. Neuronal activity can be habituated and strengthened with repetitions via either physical activity or imagined activity. Miniscule levels of electrical activity are measurable in muscles where an action is simply being intensely imagined.

When we practice physically, neural pathways are established for both the desired and undesired movements. With practice we can eliminate the "error pathways" while strengthening and refining the "correct pathways".

Visualizations can create neural pathways in the brain. Intensely experienced imagery affects brain waves, blood flow, heart rate and skin temperature. In essence, mental rehearsal propels the brain through a neural workout which approximates actual physical activity. We are practicing exactly what we wish to do, exactly as we wish to do it. Neural patterns for the exact actions are being established and refined.

In physical training, gross motor movement is trained first. As an activity gains familiarity, smaller muscles groups begin to be refined. The human visual cortex can be stimulated by imagination and visualization.

Essentially, through the process of visualization, people are able to enhance learning speed and accuracy by stimulating the visual cortex, taking themselves through a mental practice session. When the brain refines the movements we wish to perform, we are able to execute those movements relatively error free. Through visualization we establish, refine and habituate neuronal pathways that can result in more error free, enthusiastic performances.

Visualization opens a world of practice for performers extending practice beyond physical limits. When the body is physically exhausted, the mind has abundant energy to run through a program.

A study was done with basketball players. Players were divided into three groups. One group practices free throws for twenty minutes a day. One group did not practice at all. One group was asked to lie on the bleachers in a relaxed state for twenty minutes while imagining making free throws.

At the conclusion of the study, the group that practiced improved 22%. The group that did nothing did not improve at all. The group that relaxed on the bleachers visualizing making free throws improved 23%. Utilized correctly, visualization is a masterful training aid.

Try visualization for yourself. Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Allow your body to relax. Close your eyes. Picture a movie screen. Put a full figure model of yourself and of your partner on the screen. Imagine yourself beginning the move or the routine. Notice everything you do. See it clearly. Move through the steps one by one. Be aware of the temperature of the room, the way your body moves, how the muscles and weight shift. Note the placement of the feet, hips, body, arms, and head. Notice as many sensory sensations as you can. Include tactile, auditory, visual, and olfactory senses.

If you make a mistake, "rewind" to the prior step. Redo both moves. Do this slowly and deliberately. Repeat this process. Stop. Allow yourself to experience the success of achieving your goal. As you practice this simple exercise, you will find that not only does your dancing improve, but the speed with which you acquire new skills of any type improves. Start today to dream your dance and dance your dream.

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