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Monday, October 2, 2023

Academics & Research

Study aims to connect dance, brain patterns


Inspired by motion capture techniques used in films, EEG caps are placed on dancers, yoga instructors, and other trained professionals who understand how the human body can move. | Courtesy of Karen Bradley

Understanding the motions of the human body is not simply restrained to the science of muscles — every flick of a finger or twist of the head stems is controlled by the body’s central nervous system. It has been difficult for robotic and artificial limbs to accurately recreate the subtleties in human movement.

Karen Bradley, the head of the University of Maryland’s MFA Dance Program and UH’s Jose Contreras-Vidal, professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering, seek to change that. Through research the two plan to connect the dots between the movement of dancers and brain activity.

“Dancers are consciously expressive and communicative. They are well-practiced in very particular aspects of clarifying expressive movement,” Bradley said.

“If a dancer wishes to express a particular quality, they know how to manufacture that and give the energy necessary in order to do that.”

Bradley and Contreras-Vidal met in a flamenco dance class and brought their specialties together to form their ideas for the research. Their project eventually gained the title of “Your Brain on Dance: The Neural Symphony of Expressive Movement,” and began its preliminary research in 2011 under the funding from the ADVANCE grant, an award given from the University of Maryland to its female researchers.

The project studies five certified movement analysists, all dancers and actors from the University of Maryland, as they work with Contreras-Vidal’s sensor-equipped EEG cap, a device that studies their brain activity as they move.

“They have been trained to observe and also produce a huge range of movement possibilities. They’re performers, they are people who understand what happens when they walk out onto the stage and begin to move,” Bradley said.

Bradley and Contreras-Vidal expect results on their research later this summer. According to an article from the University of Maryland’s newspaper, The Diamondback, the research could expand into comparing the results of “Your Brain on Dance” to studies on Asperger’s syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder.

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