Ballet as a movement-based contemplative practice? Implications for neuroscientific studies

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There is a rising scientific interest in the neuroscience behind contemplative practices (see e.g., Vago and Silbersweig, 2012 for a review), including movement-based practices such as yoga and tai chi. Given that, it becomes important to ask how such contemplative practices differ from Western movement practices such as dance. In both dance training and contemplative movement, one learns to control the body very precisely, and this requires an assortment of mental skills as well. As a practitioner of both classical ballet and contemplation, and as a neuroscientist who studies contemplation, I will examine how the neural and mental causes and consequences of movement training differ between dance and contemplation. Ballet, rather than modern dance, serves as a good contrast for contemplative practice, because modern dance itself has been influenced substantially by contemplative practice (Hay, 2000). I will compare classical ballet and movement-based contemplative practice on the dimensions of (i) cultivation of attention, (ii) development of interoception, (iii) cultivation of meta-cognition, and (iv) emotion regulation. To date, there are limited studies of movement-based practices, for the obvious reason that movement tends to create artifacts in neuroimaging and EEG measures (e.g., Gwin et al., 2010). I will point out important gaps in our neuroscientific understanding of these phenomena. The results have implications for how we conduct studies of contemplative practitioners and dancers.
Original languageEnglish
Article number513
Number of pages4
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 17-Jul-2014


  • Emotion
  • Interoception
  • Meditation
  • Metacognition
  • Mindfulness
  • Yoga
  • attention
  • ballet
  • body movement
  • dancing
  • decision making
  • emotionality
  • human
  • human activities
  • movement perception
  • neuropsychology
  • neuroscience
  • note
  • perception
  • psychomotor performance
  • thinking
  • training

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