By: Amanda Froelich,
Endless pirouettes and graceful leaps across a stage entrance, but when one attempts a spin just a few times in their own living room, dizziness ensues. What separates a ballerina’s brain from a typical individual? Scientists have gathered research that holds promising insight into how freedom from dizziness can also be attainable by non-dancers.
It seems years of training causes structural change in a ballerina’s brain that help her stay balanced. Brain scans of professional ballerina’s showed that there are two notable differences in the brain: one that processes input from the balancing organs in the inner ear, and another responsible for the perception of dizziness.
When most people take a literal spin, they experience some form of dizziness; this is caused by the fluid-filled chambers of the inner ear which sense the rotation of the head through tiny hairs that perceive the fluid swishing about. The fluid continues to move for a while after the spin, causing feelings of disorientation and dizziness. To see the physiological difference of how ballet dancers have adapted to spinning, researchers conducted the following test to see if it’s possible to train other individuals to also regain balance.
Barry Seemungal and a team of colleagues from the Imperial College London’s Medicine department spun 29 ballerinas around in rotating chairs in a dark room, and did the same with 20 similar-in-age and fitness female rowers.
The women were asked to turn a lever on a small wheel attached to their chair in rhythm with the spinning sensation they experienced after the chair was brought to a halt. For the dancers, the perception of spinning lasted for a ‘significantly’ shorter period, the study recorded.
The women’s brains were also examined with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans which proved to show that the part of the cerebellum which processes the signal from the balancing organs was smaller in the dancers. The cerebellum is the part of the brain the governs body movement.
It’s obviously not optimal for a ballerina to experience dizziness while dancing, therefore by locating the part of the brain which plays a large role in monitoring balance, scientists are one step closer to understanding more effective methods to help those in need of stability.
In other clinics and areas of research, it has been long understood that the cerebellum is responsible for governing body movement, however it’s the treatment to heal the issue that is most needed. Certain therapies that include balance retraining exercises and even a healthier diet have proven to dramatically improve the balancing phenomenon.
Perhaps ballerinas in their dedication to exemplify grace, poise, and balance will help others regain their steadiness as well.