Ballet Dancers’ Brains Stop Dizziness

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neural_circuitsThe dance and science worlds collided recently when a study from London’s Imperial College showed that ballet dancers’ brains adapt to keep them from feeling dizzy while they perform pirouettes.

According to the neuroscience study, years of ballet training enables a dancer to suppress signals to the brain originating from the balance organs located within the inner ear. The findings could lead to major improvements in the way doctors currently treat patients suffering from chronic dizziness – a condition that will affect about 25% of the population at some point.

Generally, feelings of dizziness begin at the fluid-filled chambers known as vestibular organs within the inner ear. These organs sense the rotation of your head via tiny hairs. If you spin around repeatedly, the fluid sloshes around even after you stop, causing dizziness. Ballet dancers are trained to utilize a technique known as spotting to reduce dizzy feelings when spinning and pirouetting. But spotting alone (which involves rapidly moving your head to keep your vision fixed at one particular spot) isn’t the only reason why dancers can spin around without falling.

Brain scans of dancers compared to women in the same age range who were not ballerinas revealed that an adaptation in the way sensory input from the vestibular organs was received within the cerebral cortex led to fewer feelings of dizziness for the dancers. The next step for researchers and physicians will be to target those same brain areas for further study.

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