Ballet Dancers' Brains Adapt to Resist Dizziness

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If it makes you dizzy simply to watch the Round Up or the Gravitron at the amusement park, you might wonder how ballet dancer seem to spin in endless pirouettes.

Wanting to know the same thing, researchers at Imperial College in London compared a group of ballet dancers to a group of rowers, and concluded that dancers train themselves to suppress signals from inner-ear organs related to balance. Dancers use a technique called spotting, or moving the head to fix their gaze on the same spot, to avoid getting dizzy, but the new research shows that the brain also helps.

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“Ballet dancers seem to be able to train themselves not to get dizzy, so we wondered whether we could use the same principles to help our patients,” Barry Seemungal, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College, said in a press release. “It’s not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance. Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input. Consequently, the signal going to the brain areas responsible for perception of dizziness in the cerebral cortex is reduced, making dancers resistant to feeling dizzy.”

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The researchers had 29 ballerinas and 20 rowers spin in a chair in a dark room, and mark how long they felt like they were spinning after they had stopped. They also measured eye reflexes and compared brain scans. Both the reflexes and the perception of spinning showed quicker returns to normal in the dancers. And the area in the cerebellum responsible for the perception of dizziness was smaller in the dancers, the brain scans showed.

Seemungal hopes to use the findings to target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic dizziness to develop better treatments.

 

Photo: iStock