Movement of the mind

An unusual event looks at what dance can contribute to cognitive development
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The Independent Culture

"Everybody's brain becomes very active when they watch other people dance," says the neuroscientist Dr Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, "and in exactly the same brain regions as when you actually perform those movements yourself."

Dr Blakemore is preparing to analyse and comment on two dance pieces in The Emotion of Dance at the Science Museum. Those pieces are by the choreographers Dr Henrietta Bannerman, a researcher and lecturer, and Susan Sentler, a former dancer with the Martha Graham Ensemble. Both teach at Laban, the contemporary dance school in south-east London. One will include an extract from Martha Graham's Night Journey, a dramatic dance based on the Oedipus myth; the other is a classical duet that shifts into modern dance. Both pieces will be performed by two dancers from Laban.

Dr Blakemore's job is to help deduce how the brain interprets dance, and how movement stirs emotions and senses. "I must admit that I am not a dance fanatic," says Dr Blakemore, a Royal Society Research Fellow at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London. "I never imagined that I would have to analyse dance for the Science Museum," she says.

The arts and sciences are brought together in Midsummer Celebration: Arts & the Mind - an evening of events dedicated to exploring the mystery of the creative mind at the Science Museum's Dana centre. The evening of activities and talks will investigate what the latest developments in brain research can tell us about creativity. It will also include a real-life story of the former builder, Tommy McHugh, who, since suffering a stroke, has become a prolific artist. The dramatic change to his character and his new-found creativity is investigated by the neurophysiologist Dr Mark Lythgoe. "Even when looking at my kitchen floor," says McHugh, "I see hundreds of different faces that I need to draw, paint or write about. Art is my life-saving therapy."

How the brain processes music will also be explored through the interpretation of a jazz and classical recital to be performed by The New London Orchestra. A heart scientist, Dr Harry Witchell, will lead an open discussion with the audience to reveal the creative processes at work during a concert. But before the evening ends with a debate on creativity, Professor Margaret Bode, from the University of Sussex and the author of The Creative Mind, will give a talk.

How did Dr Blakemore get involved in all this? "Good question," she laughs. Her research focuses on the brain mechanisms underlying social interaction in autism and the development of social understanding during adolescence. She is still unsure about how she is going to go about the live commentary. "I might just wait until the end of each dance before I speak," she says.

The Dana Centre, 165 Queens Gate, London SW7, 24 June, 6.30-10pm. Tickets are free but must be prebooked 020-7942 4040 or