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Nia Tidbit

Keep dancing… it turns out it is good for the brain

blog by Alanna Orpen

PR Assistant at BioMed Central
With a BSc in Zoology from the University of Durham, Alanna assisted with cheetah conservation and land rehabilitation projects in Africa, before entering the realm of science communication. Having achieved a Masters in Science Communication from Imperial College London, and after experimenting with art infused science activities, she joined BioMed Central in April 2014.

Keep dancing… it turns out it is good for the brain

Picking up choreography can seem like a brain teaser. Interpreting which arm, which leg, which direction even, can lead to legs and arms everywhere except for the very position they should be in. This can be frustrating, but keep dancing, as research suggests that learning new steps could prevent dementia.

Alanna Orpen 4 Apr 2016

Dancing is good for the brain
In the studio by Alanna Orpen

I am frequently in a dance studio, where routines and exercises are thrown at me (and my fellow dancers). You’re expected to pick up the steps in a matter of minutes, are set improvisation challenges, and the choreography changes from week to week.

It is as much a mental workout as it is physical, digesting the constant new material, but this turns out to be a good thing. At the start of a contemporary class, the teacher announced, “Good news for us dancers, I read today that dancing can prevent dementia.” So I thought I’d investigate.

Dementia risk

Dementia describes a set of symptoms that may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, that are caused when the brain is damaged by diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

According to the World Health Organization, the number of people who will be affected by neurological disorders is expected to increase in the upcoming decades. There are issues with current surgical and pharmacological treatments, as well as conventional rehabilitative therapies, so new therapies are needed.

dancing can reduce the onset of dementia

Dance is seen as viable therapy because it simultaneously combines physical and cognitive stimulation, which could maximize its impact on neuroplasticity and cognition. So far, studies have examined the effects of dance in elderly individuals with dementia, including subjects with Alzheimer’s disease and those with confusion, disorientation, and memory loss.

Dance to prevent onset of dementia

Dance is mentally stimulating

Dancing is mainly associated with physical health benefits, but scientists have recently discovered its neurological benefits. The complex mental coordination that dance requires activates several brain regions: the cerebellum, the somatosensory cortex and the basal ganglia, triggering kinaesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional responses. This strengthens neural connections and can improve our memory.

Benefits of dance movement therapy in dementia treatment

In 2003, research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that dancing can reduce the onset of dementia. The 21-year study of senior citizens, aged 75 and older, was led by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, funded by the National Institute on Aging. They measured each participant’s mental alertness as a means of monitoring the rates of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers studied a range of cognitive and physical activities, such as reading; writing; doing crossword puzzles; playing cards; playing musical instruments; dancing; walking; tennis; swimming and golf. Surprisingly, dance was the one activity that was good for the mind, significantly reducing dementia risk. Regular dancing reduced the risk of dementia by 76%, twice as much as reading. Doing crossword puzzles at least four days a week reduced the risk by 47%, while cycling and swimming offered no benefit at all.

dance may still be seen as recreational while its clinical value is overlooked

But, not all forms of dancing offer the same cognitive benefits. Working on memorized sequences, might improve your performance, however it doesn’t create new neural pathways. The theory goes that the more pathways your brain has the easier it can access stored information and the better your memory.

Neurologist Dr. Robert Katzman said, “Freestyle social dancing, such as foxtrot, waltz and swing, requires constant split-second, rapid-fire decision making, which is the key to maintaining intelligence because it forces your brain to regularly rewire its neural pathways, giving you greater cognitive reserve and increased complexity of neuronal synapses.

Building your brain’s neural complex works in much the same way as exercise, to get fitter you have to train regularly. So, the more dancing you do, the greater your cognitive reserve. And don’t worry about having to attend dance classes. It’s said that you’ll benefit from just going out dancing. Your improvisational skills on the dance floor should fire up the rapid decision-making that’s needed to forge new neural pathways.

Another study in 2012 showed that a 10 week dance intervention helped dementia patients over 70. It was a small pilot study of 18 subjects, where ten of the dance participants showed an improvement in cognitive function and mood compared to the eight who did not dance.

neurological benefits of dancing

Argentine tango, Parkinson’s Disease and future trials

Dance has also been found to alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Similarly to dementia, it is another disease where individuals can suffer impaired mental function due to damaged neurons in the brain. A review, published in BMC Neurology, discusses how the Argentine Tango can improve an individual’s spatial awareness and memory because of the postures and simple paths learnt during the dance classes. These are then stored, remembered and used again, but it is also important for individuals to improvise and respond spontaneously to the music.

The field of dance research in the elderly is relatively young and continues to evolve. A study published in BMC Geriatrics, found that a dance video game, which combined physical and cognitive training, was more beneficial in improving walking accuracy and pace in older adults than muscle strengthening exercises alone.

Research hoping to bolster the use of dance therapy include a trial in BMC Geriatrics. The authors will examine whether two hours of moderate dance sessions a week will be sufficient to increase brain growth factors supporting brain plasticity and slow down dementia progression.

Dance and ageing research has shown its positive impact on the neurology in healthy and dementia groups. Dance therapy could be prescribed by physicians to improve visual perception and spatial memory, an area commonly affected by dementia. Even so, would traditionalists be willing to accept dance as something more than just a hobby and trust in its clinical value? At least there’s little worry about negative side effects.

If dancing can keep my mind healthy, as well as my body, then bring on the fast intricate footwork along with a port de bras (carriage of the arms) to match. I’ll see you in the studio.

 We look forward to dancing with you!

 Nia classes are being offered 4 times a week at MoveStudio Charlotte! 

It is through The Body that you realize you are a spark of Divinity! 

Invite your friends and family to step into health, healing and awareness the Nia way.
Nia is being offered twice a week at MoveStudio Charlotte 1111 Hawthorne Ln Charlotte, NC! 
Join Sherrie Flack on Sunday, 4pm, Monday, 9:30am, Wednesday 7:30pm  & Terese Schoen (Taggart) Thursday at 10am.
Looking for other classes in the Charlotte, NC area? Please visit


Fun Clothing To Dance In 

Photograph by AutumnTeneyl

Many in our Nia community have been asking where they can purchase fun clothing to dance in. You asked and I listened. 



Queen Of Hearts

Hoop Clothes

Soul of Jiva

Nia Now

FYI: Nia Headquarters has limited sizes and I'm not sure what their future plans are at this time.


Additional Nia Tidbit

Learn more about the Nine Movement Forms Used In Nia.

Nine Movement Forms of Nia

Principle 2: The Nine Movement Forms of Nia:  Dance Arts, Martial Arts & Healing Arts

p2 9MF Rainbow

The Story of the Movement Forms from Nia co-founder, Debbie Rosas:

We studied various movement forms to balance the feminine with the masculine, the precise with liquid fluidity, the powerful with the yielding. Over time we found that by blending various movement forms, we were able to express and explore different aspects of our
physical, emotional, and spiritual selves. The movement forms connect us to a variety of energies, which together keep the body vibrant and healthy. They create different ways of breathing and moving, different energies and emotions. Each movement from has its own personality, and you will naturally be more attracted to one form over the others. Our intent is to help you discover the unique
essence each movement form offers. It is not necessary to have studied each form extensively; instead, capture the feeling, the essence each form brings to expressive movement.

Descriptions of the energies of each of the nine movement forms…

Dance Arts:  Jazz, Modern & Duncan Dance

p2 9mf jazz

Jazz – Fun, Showmanship & Expression

  • Move energy quickly, in short, explosive lines; isolations
  • Expression; passion exudes from hands and heart; playful
  • Coordination enhanced by synchronizing one body part with another
  • Infuse emotion into all parts of the body, all parts of the movement

Playful, attitude, jazzy, impulsive, showy, senseless fun, sudden, pulsating, sensual, isolated, burst, energetic, surprising, skillful, quick, hips, hands, fingers, shoulders, sexy, spontaneous

P2 9mf duncan

Duncan Dance – Spirited, Honest Movement

  • Childlike – run, leap, hide, climb trees, dance, fly
  • Creative exploration, unfolding mystery, magic & play
  • Joy of all emotion, expression with authentic ease; light heart
  • Opens ankle joints and spine; balance arises through physical ease, light feet & free-flowing expressive movement.

From the soul, child, spirit, angelic, freedom, exploring, running, playing, skipping, social, interactive, hope, positive, joy of play, effortless, fairy-like, magic, melodic, flying, unfolding, radiating

p2 9mf modern

Modern Dance – Playing with Balance, Shapes & Space

  • Shape-shifting; possibilities, choices, form & formlessness
  • Explore range of motion, emotion, balance, play; subtle & dramatic
  • Build core power in balance
  • Centered both on and off balance; dance around center

Moody, serious, free, introspective, on & off balance, tight & loose, form & formless, shapes, space, color, heavy, light, playful, contrasts, gravity, surprise, aloof, collapsed, hot, cold, pause, move, angles, circles, lines

Martial Arts:  T’ai Chi, Tae Kwon Do & Aikido

p2 9mf tai chi

T’ai Chi – The Slow Dance

  • Mind deeply relaxed; mindful of actions & thoughts
  • Power, ease, & lightness rooted in grace; Peace & harmony
  • Moving from the feet with relaxed joints establishes fluidity
  • Slow Motion cultivates strength, endurance & flexibility in the legs

Soft, relaxed, wind-like, fluid, water, grounded, rooted, connected, liquid, focused, balanced, meditative, graceful, integrated, strong, agile, effortless, gentle, flowing, circular, supple, quiet, open & rounded, dynamic ease

p2 9mf tae kwon do

Tae Kwon Do – The Dance of Precision

  • Lines that deflect, stop & move objects out of your way
  • Emotional strength, confidence, alignment: Warrior, Eagle
  • Punch from heart level, the most powerful center from which to deliver upper body force
  • Hand techniques – punches, strikes, spear finger, etc. –move energy & strengthen

React, sharp, solid, protective, thrust, aware, speed, start & stop, direct, quick, conscious, precise, directed, sudden, kick, punch, block, alert, power, pushing, aggressive, timing, resistance, anger, passion, fire, electricity, voice

p2 9mf aikido

Aikido – Harmonious Spherical Motion

  • Turning conflict into harmony; acceptance of what is
  • Create spiral & circular movements to cultivate energy
  • Consciously connect energy to center and direct it along the path of least resistance
  • Feel yourself in the center of a spiral, supported by vertical axis

Blending, relaxation, attention, continuous, flowing, spirals, circles, recycling energy, perpetual motion, in and out, infinity, figure 8, cooperative, harmonizing, peaceful & powerful, swirling, adapting, soft edges, connected, fluid

Healing Arts:  Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique & Yoga

p2 9mf feldenkrais

Feldenkrais – Conscious Feeling of Movement

  • Movement without effort; ease & efficiency
  • Let go of the pushing mind; slow down to reconnect & feel deeply
  • Move rather than react; listen before you move
  • Empower though self-guided movement, attention off teacher

Somatic, individualized experience, felt, perceived, self-conscious, healthy, healing, slow, self-adjusting, body-centered, connected, body-conscious, mindful, internally directed, awareness, sensation

p2 9mf Alexander

Alexander Technique – Movement from the Top

  • Organize the body from the top down; lengthening, reaching out & up
  • Light, lightness of being reflected in gracious posture, walk & voice
  • Self-observe habits to change them
  • Non-interference, consciousness & reasoned intention

Internal, subtle, not doing, consciousness, ease, flexibility, health, physical freedom, unbound, don’t try, easy, grace, naturalness, head up and out – body follows, upward direction, not overdoing or under doing, re-patterning, getting out of your own way

p2 9mf yoga

Yoga – The Conscious Dance of Alignment

  • Align bones with the forces of the Earth & the energy around you
  • Use the mind to develop a better relationship with your body
  • Gain flexibility & power; restorative; increases and restores the natural flow of energy
  • Let go of effort; flexibility does not equal success; less is more

Nia has been and still is a beautiful gift and a blessing to my life, which I continually receive knowledge and information from. I can't imagine my life without Nia! Thank you, Debbie Rosas Stewart and Carlos Aya Rosas for bringing this beautiful blend of music and fusion fitness to the world and to MY life!

The unique and blended methods of the Nia Technique offers a wonderful fitness experience in self-discovery and self-expression! Nia is not like any other workout I've ever experienced before...Nia is a life practice of ongoing learning and discovering!

Nia is FUN and truly excites my entire body each time I attend another instructors class or guide my own classes!

Nia is the first workout I have discovered that leaves my body desiring more!

Nia has helped me realize how important it is to listen to my body and become mindful and aware while exercising, sitting in a chair and even as I wake up and start my day each morning!

Thank you Nia!

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