The Brain and Ballet

The biggest problem for most dancers in turning is that they are lacking self-confidence. It is the fear of turning that is stopping them. This can be abated by becoming familiar with the process. In this case, the process involves the brain. To build and develop self-confidence, we need to be aware of what is happening in our minds as we try to complete a movement. The anatomy of movement is something very interesting, and even though it may seem irrelevant or useless, your knowledge of it will help your dancing more than you could ever know.

Are you really in control?

Why don’t ballet dancers get dizzy after turning so much? Well, scientists were intrigued about this phenomenon and performed a study to get more information. It turns out that in professional dancers, the gray area in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with balance, has an increased density.¹ Dancers have actually adapted to being dizzy so that they can regain balance faster.

What does this mean for dancers? It means that if you literally train your brain, you will be in control of your technique, and have the ability to change what your muscles do. It just takes time, practice and knowledge. There is factual, quantified information showing how you do dance steps and the muscle patterns involved. In other words, you don’t just dance well because you are wearing your lucky halter leotard, it’s Tuesday, on the right side and the stars are aligned with the moon… you dance well because your brain is firing up the correct muscle fibers to complete a step well.

Studies have shown that an increased amount of self-confidence is correlated with a better performance in sports.² With this type of self-confidence and awareness, your performance in dance will become much better and more consistent. Being aware of your mental willpower and cognition and how it affects your dancing will help you in more ways than one.

The anatomy of movement

To further understand this concept, we should be aware of something I like to call the “anatomy of movement.” The main area of the brain involved with movement is the primary motor cortex.³  In the diagram below, it is denoted in yellow:


This area of the brain sends signals through the spinal cord to stimulate certain muscle fibers, which in turn act to complete a movement. Although, it sounds like nothing new, I would like to reiterate right now, that you have the innate ability to control what your muscles and bones do.

How is this helpful?

Practice, control and a pristine amount of self-discipline makes perfect. Not, as I said earlier, it being Wednesday, sunny, on the right side and the stars being aligned correctly with the moon. By being aware of the muscle processes involved and the neurological pathways to your muscle fibers, you can stimulate the areas you need to improve in your technique.

These concepts can help with keeping a level head on stage, not letting nerves for a performance take over your entire body, and dancing well during frightening steps such as pirouettes or fouettés in the studio.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week here at



5 thoughts on “The Brain and Ballet

  1. This is actually my biggest problem: lack of self-confidence. It’s so true, Ella! And I’m not able to turn or even do a class without feeling bad about myself… it’s so upsetting! I hope to fix this problem as soon as possible but having to do with self-esteem and confidence is one of the hardest things ever!

    1. Hi Alessia,

      I completely understand. Make sure to check out my newest blog post, The Brain and Ballet, for some information to help you conquer that. How to Find True Confidence may also be helpful to you.

      My biggest tip is to find what makes you dance better. If I have a bad day, I will do a special twist in my hair or wear my favorite leotard…it affects you in a different way than you may think. Just changing up your routines on a daily or weekly basis can keep you refreshed and new. Hope this helps!

      Ella Goulet

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