Improvement Series, RA Dance Blog, Training Help

Dance on the Brain: Dizziness

We all have our own perception of what dizziness actually is. The word itself is used to describe a variety of bodily sensations that many patients cannot accurately relay to those treating them (Sloane, et al., 2001). When using the word dizzy many of us tend to be describing the continued sense of spinning, despite being our body’s being still. There are a few different distinct types of dizziness, for example light-headedness, migraine dizziness, and vertigo to name a few. However, it is very hard to define and accurately diagnose dizziness in patients, many needed multiple visits, where a third of patients diagnosis are changed following another visit (Nedzelski, Barber, and McIlmoyl, 1982). Dizziness is a common symptom people talk to their doctor’s about, perhaps because of the large range of definitions it can have. Overall it is most prevelant in adults aged 20-50 and women are more likely to highlight the sensation (Sloane, 1989; Nedzelski, Barber, and McIlmoyl, 1982). As a dancer dizziness is a sensation we want to avoid, as it distracts from the movements we may need to make. Having the sensation of dizziness is not helpful when needed to complete a series of turns, especially those seen in ballets like swan lake. This post will investigate ways dancers can avoid this sensation and help improve their turning as a result.

Every time I ask my class to spin I feel this is one of the first tips I give my students; Spot the wall. This is a technique where you constantly look at the same area of the wall, commonly we try to find a little spot of defect in the area we’re looking to make it easier for ourselves. Finding this space to look at gives us a placement for the head, as we turn the aim to keep the head looking at that spot. This creates a fast head movement that is done once the gaze cannot be maintained due to the turn in the body, the head is then rotated back to that spot overtaking the rotation of the rest of the body. This behaviour could be to avoid the sensation of dizziness, but may also  help with postural realignment helping with postural stability (Schärli, et al., 2017). Results from this research are currently inconclusive but should be published soon. The research cited is the first of its kind to re-evaluate the role of spotting in turning, all previous research only hypothesise that this technique is used to reduce dizziness. It is likely that the research will show the technique helps with both dizziness and postural realignment, meaning it is a habit that dancers are likely to continue use during turn sequences.

Further research also appears to allude to the finding that dancers become less dizzy from turning even when they are unable to spot (Wong, 2013). Combined with the above hypothesis it may seem that spotting doesn’t actually help with reducing dizziness. However, it may be that the continued use of spotting through training helps to change the way the brain processes the sensation of dizziness. It appears that within trained ballet dancers their are two brain changes that reduce the signals of dizziness. The first is that an area in the cerebellum that processes input from the vestibular organs, the organs responsible for the sensations of dizziness, is smaller. This is compared to a group of rowers of the same age and fitness levels to the dancers. The presumption is that this change within the brain is because during turning it is much more adaptive for dancers not to feel dizzy and as a result the processing area for this sensation has because smaller due to inactivity through continued turn training and suppressing of dizzy sensations (Nigmatullina, et al., 2015; Wong, 2013). The second change seen in this research is that the cerebral cortex, the are that perceives signals of dizziness re-encoding them as the dizzy sensation, receives smaller signals from the cerebellum and as a result the person experiences reduced sensations of dizziness.

This techniques could provide patients suffering with dizziness new treatment methods to combating their symptoms. Highlighted from Nigmatullina‘s research was the idea that when patients present themselves with symptoms of dizziness the diagnosis procedure may not be accurately measuring all indicators of the sensation, causing many doctors to simply think there is nothing wrong with their patients, yet the sensation may still persist in their patients. Research will help to untangle the wide variety of condition and sensations that are covered by the term ‘dizziness’ but in the meantime for dancers there is clear evidence that learning to turn with good technique will help decrease your sensation of dizziness and thus be able to continue turning a little bit longer.



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