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BrainDance to Support Emotional Learning

By Anne Green Gilbert, Founder of Creative Dance Center and the Summer Dance Institute for Teachers


The BrainDance is a body–brain exercise with infinite variations. This flexible framework is based on early movement patterns and involuntary reflexes that build our brain and body. Moving through the eight BrainDance patterns at any age improves cognition and delays dementia by increasing the protein in our brain cells, reduces depression by increasing the flow of serotonin and dopamine, maintains flexibility through the release of synovial fluid, develops core strength, reduces fatigue and stress, and increases attention and focus.

The BrainDance is a healthy, engaging exercise to do in schools, gyms, dance studios, community centers, and retirement homes or at home—by yourself or with friends and family. During this stressful time of the COVID-19 outbreak, I have created a variation of the exercise for myself, my family, and my students. This BrainDance may be performed seated in a chair (or on the floor), standing up, or a combination of the two. Some of the emotion vocabulary may be unfamiliar to younger students. If you are working with preschool and primary grades, either take the opportunity to explain the vocabulary or use more familiar terms.



The Emotion BrainDance

Breath Pattern: Exhale lightly with a long, slow breath (8 to 12 counts) as if you were trying to move a butterfly off a branch. Inhale more deeply as if you were trying to pull the butterfly back to the branch. You feel relaxed. Repeat four to six times. Remember to keep breathing mindfully throughout the BrainDance.

Tactile Pattern: Tap all body surfaces from head to toe, front and back. You feel confused; squeeze and scrub all body surfaces with a strong grasp. You feel angry. Gently brush all body surfaces with long strokes. You feel tranquil.

Core–Distal Pattern: Curl the arms into your core, curving the whole spine and slightly bending the knees to create a ball shape while engaging core muscles. You feel safe. Keeping the core engaged, stretch open, reaching wide into space with the hands, feet, and spine. You feel empowered. Repeat four to six times.

Head-Tail (Spine) Pattern: Wiggle your spine gently from the top of your head to the bottom of your pelvis for 16 counts. Your legs may also wiggle gently. You feel excited. Roll the spine down, starting at your head, until you touch the floor, or as far as you can reach. You feel sad. Bend your knees slightly, press your feet into the ground and unroll slowly. You feel composed. Do this two to three times. Rotate or twist your spine, with the sternum leading, to the right and left several times. You feel curious.

Upper-Lower Pattern: Plant your feet firmly on the floor with knees relaxed while you move the whole upper body (including spine) with big slashing movements. You feel frustrated. Move the whole upper body with movements that are large, smooth, and curvy. You feel optimistic.

Relax and ground the upper body as you stomp your feet in place or around the room. You feel grumpy. Pick your knees up and march lightly in place or around the room. You feel energized.

Body-Side Pattern: Relax and ground the right side of your body. Do punching and poking movements with the left side of your body. You feel impatient. Move the left arm and leg up and down with slow, smooth movements. You feel calm. Repeat the movements and feelings on the right side of your body while stabilizing with your left side.

brain dance exerciseCross-Lateral Pattern: Gently cross and uncross the left arm and right leg several times and then the right arm and left leg several times. You feel shy. Shake the right arm and left leg for 16 counts, then shake the left arm and leg. You feel nervous. Swing the left arm and right leg forward and backward and then switch; swing the right arm and left leg. You feel hopeful.

Vestibular Pattern: Make an X shape with your body and tip side to side four to six times. You feel off-balance. Plant both feet on the floor and breathe slowly for 8 to 16 counts. You feel centered. Swing your upper body downward then upward four times, then breathe slowly for 8 to 16 counts. You feel refreshed and rejuvenated.


Anne Green GilbertAnne Green Gilbert has taught toddlers through adults at the Creative Dance Center,  which she founded, as well as at elementary schools, universities, and at her Summer Dance Institute. She developed BrainDance in 2008 and this focusing warm-up exercise has been used around the world. She is the author of both Brain-Compatible Dance Education, Second Edition, and Creative Dance for All Ages, Second Edition. When Anne isn’t writing books or teaching others about BrainDance, she enjoys spending time with her family, including six dancing grandchildren.