Recently, a team of researchers from the Faculty of Health at York University studied brain scans of 11 ballet dancers to assess the effects of learning and practice.
In the study, participants visualized dancing to music while undergoing MRI scans. Professor Joseph DeSouza says, “We wanted to study how the brain gets activated with long-term rehearsal of complex dance motor sequences. The study outcome will help with understanding motor learning and developing effective treatments to rehabilitate the damaged or diseased brain.”
Scans were measured at four times over 34 weeks, when the dancers began learning a new dance. According to a press release, the team discovered that "initial learning and performance at seven weeks led to increase in activation in cortical regions during visualization of the dance being learned when compared to the first week," but then the activation reduced at the end of the 34 weeks.
DeSouza compares it to "learning to drive a manual car, where you constantly have to think about shifting the gears until you master it and then do it instinctively.”
Read the full results of the study — "Tracking Plasticity: Effects of Long-Term Rehearsal in Expert Dancers Encoding Music to Movement” — on the PLOS One website.