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To stay on your toes, pay attention to your arms

October 21, 2009 | 12:56 pm

Dancers are known for their controlled movements, the result of years of training and practice. But not all dancers are created equal--some have better perception of their upper bodies than others, which could have implications for non-dancers as well, according to a new study.

Dzc7gcgw Researchers from the University of Michigan compared upper body proprioception levels for modern dancers and Irish dancers, the latter known for their fancy footwork while their arms stay mostly still. Proprioception is the sense of where one's limbs are as they move through space, and dancers, athletes and the like are typically very aware of arm and leg placement.

Ten modern dancers and eight Irish dancers were studied (each with an average 10 or more years of experience), plus a 10-person control group that had no long-term dance, sports or music training. Each group was given physical proprioceptive matching tasks using their arms. The modern dancers made fewer total errors than the Irish dancers or controls, and scored almost 30% better than the Irish dancers in tests measuring upper limb awareness.

Although the study was small, it suggests there may be a use-it-or-lose-it factor when it comes to limb awareness and movement, and physical therapy and rehab programs that target only the lower body to increase balance might need to include the upper body as well.

The study was presented recently at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Michael Le Poer Trench

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