Tag Archives: music

Morris Sword Dancing

Social dancing is physical manna for your health. It gets your body moving and your neurons firing. Morris dancing takes this to another level, with the myriad foot patterns and sword movements that have to be learned in order to accurately and smoothly dance within your group of six. This is what I discovered in my capacity as an extra person for my school’s May Day dances.

Turns out that every year on May Day each grade in this K-9 school has its own dance to perform in front of the entire school, which includes parents and grandparents. Held outdoors on the field, all the students dress in their summer best, and for ninety minutes there is swirling and foot stomping, dosey-doeing and allemanding. After a school-wide Virginia Reel, the ninth grade winds up the festivities with a Morris Sword Dance.

For the dance, the students need to be grouped in sixes. This year, there were 19 students in the ninth grade, necessitating 5 faculty volunteers to help make four groups of six. Of course, I volunteered! Besides enjoying the social component, I had to learn four rounds of sword dancing, reciting on a daily basis right over left, flat on top so that I could remember to pass my sword properly, thus winding up with a locked star.

It wasn’t that the dance was difficult, but rather when we perform, it becomes a race to the music to see which group creates their star first. The adrenaline rush of trying to be the first with the star is often what causes any given group to muck up with the passing of the swords. In the end, all that really mattered was the tremendous fun everyone had dancing, coupled with marching around the rectangular field being high-fived by all the kids in the other grades!

This first set is my group practicing earlier in the day. For the actual dance, each ninth grade group dons their costumes (held secret till the actual dance), and my group became super heroes. (Wonder Woman, in case you were wondering ;-) ) Scroll down to see us in as our super selves!


On Music, Dopamine, and Making Sense of Sound

Last week SharpBrains published part one of my two posts about Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music, and now part two is posted! On Music, Dopamine, and Making Sense of Sound explores how music impacts people who have Parkinson’s, dementia or Alzheimer’s.

If you know anyone with Parkinson’s, dementia or Alzheimer’s, and if they currently do not have music in their lives, I hope you will share my two posts with them and with their families. Thank you, on their behalf!

Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition!

A number of my posts have dealt with my foray into teaching yoga and facilitating movement for folks who are dealing with movement limitations, the normal process of aging, or changes in cognitive functioning due to dementia or Alzheimer’s. I have also mentioned Daniel Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain On Music, related posts being available here.

I am delighted to share that yesterday part 1 of two posts furthering the above conversations has been posted on the SharpBrains blog. My post is Music as Therapy: Music, Movement, Cognition! I hope you’ll pop over to read it, and if you have any feedback, please feel free to share, especially if you have related experiences that we can all learn from. Thanks!

Music & Memory ~ Alive Inside Documentary

For as long as I’ve been interested in the brain, neurologist Oliver Sacks has been someone who has stood out. He is an author of many books, in particular one with an intriguing title, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, and one that directly relates to a topic of great interest to me, Musicophilia. If you’ve been following my blog posts, you’ll recall I am reading Dan Levitan’s This Is Your Brain On Music (just one chapter to go!)

The video clip below is from Alive Inside, a documentary about the impact of music on people who live with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The movie is being screened next week in New York City at The Rubin Museum of Art. You can read more about the program of bringing music to nursing homes and people with Alzheimer’s at Music & memory.

[Update April 22: My friend Ann sent me a link to NPR's eight minute interview – For Elders With Dementia, Musical Awakenings – with Dan Cohen, the person who started the process of crafting individualized song lists for folks with dementia and Alzheimer's, around which the Alive Inside documentary is based. In my Seated Sunday Yoga Songfest at The Pavilion, I have seen similar connections reblossom when a familiar song plays. There is often the added piece of a personal connection, as my hands connect with another's, we move and sway and sing, we smile and look into each other's eyes.]

“We Didn’t Start the Scanner”

Delightful three and a half minute video about the history of brain scanning, all to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. And how nice of the producers, they’ve included the lyrics! Oh, and of course you know that it is easier to memorize something if it is set to music. Anyone studying for a test on the time line of brain scanning…

This Is Your Brain On Music

This morning I was putting away the syrup that garnished the scrumptious french toast made by my husband, and as I closed the refrigerator door, some of the many tiles of magnetic poetry caught my eye. As our sons come and go on home visits, they alter the poetry, so I have no idea which one crafted this gem, but how appropriate given the book I am currently reading!

I am two-thirds of the way through Daniel J. Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music. When this book came out in 2007, I ordered a hard cover copy from amazon and eagerly awaited its delivery. When it arrived, I thumbed through the book and decided it wasn’t for me.

Rather than letting it languish on my book shelf, I gave it to a student – an accomplished high school musician who played (and still plays) clarinet and saxophone, who has studied at Julliard, and with who I had a close relationship developed over years of her assisting with faculty technology workshops and my being her advisor for her eleventh grade independent study project that resulted in her authoring and publishing this book. As her lulu.com bio states, she is “currently studying Music Education and Clarinet Performance at the University of Maryland, College Park.”

Now, five years later, guess what book I am reading? This time I have a paperback copy borrowed from my local library. And I am two-thirds of the way through Levitin’s book, absorbing his words and relating them back to my experience – in caring for my Dad, who had Parkinson’s and Alzheimers; in teaching yoga to people with mobility or other limitations; in teaching yoga to people who are at the upper realms of aging; in learning to teach dance to people with Parkinson’s. There will be much more about all of this as I continue to read, take notes, reflect and wonder, with a possibility of everything coming together in a blog post for SharpBrains.

But for now, I am just smiling at the magnetic poetry on my refrigerator door. Oh, and wouldn’t you know it – last night Levitin’s invitation to participate in a survey about music came across my Twitter feed. Of course, I participated! For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, I do not know Levitin but I “follow” him, so everything he tweets about shows up in my timeline. How fitting that the magnetic poetry and Levitin’s tweet both deal with music and mood.

Last post – Music; this post – Dance

For me, they are linked – I hear music, I start to move. And if it’s a certain kind of music, my body starts to dance. The only thinking I do is split second, wondering if it is okay to start dancing in my current surroundings.

Music has an amazing impact on the brain, influencing neuronal impulses to cause movement. This Facebook wall post says it all. In fact, there are instances where dancing helps the brain to think.

Parkinson’s Disease – Dance for PD

I have been training, via Dance for PD, to teach dance to people with Parkinson’s. At some point, a person who has Parkinson’s winds up having difficulty controlling their movement. Their body parts function just fine, but the signal that is sent from their brain to their legs, for instance, gets lost in translation. The signal never arrives, or it arrives late or in a discombobulated form.

It turns out, though, that when someone with Parkinson’s participates in these Dance for PD dance classes, something magical happens. The music permeates their minds and provides rhythmic accompaniment for their movement signals to traverse from the brain to the body part. Feet and legs can move, indeed, dance, often gracefully and fluidly, facilitated by the music.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Very powerful it is, this dance! Especially in a social setting. Bringing people together to touch hands, figure out who leads, who follows, and how to create movement through music and footwork – all of this requires thought, concentration, focus and quick planning ahead. According to this article by Richard Powers, a dance instructor and presenter at Stanford University, dancing makes you smarterIt’s not just about the physical exercise provided by dance or the release of endorphins that ultimately makes a person feel good, it’s the social aspects that benefit cognition.

Frequent dancing apparently makes us smarter. A major study added to the growing evidence that stimulating one’s mind can ward off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, much as physical exercise can keep the body fit.

Fact is, when dancing with a partner, you have to pay attention and be one step (always figuratively and sometimes literally!) ahead of what they will do next. This causes your brain to build synapses and continually rewire itself the more you dance. All of this synaptical building is creating cognitive reserve, a mental buffer. The more neuronal connections you have, the better, so that if one portion of your brain malfunctions, the other portions of your brain can co-opt some of that cognitive reserve.

Dance is FUN and HEALTHY and SOCIAL and just plain GOOD FOR YOU!

The Nickelodeon…Music, Music, Music!

Put another nickel in
In the nickelodeon
All I want is having you
And music, music, music

It’s those last three words that tickle my fancy: music, music, music!

Posts about music have appeared on this blog seven times, usually relating to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or dementia. The most recent post, from last October, included a quote by Daniel J. Levitin, a neuroscientist who is also a musician, and it is Levitin who led me – via Twitter – to a post by Diana Hereld about Autism, Gabrielle Giffords and the Neuroscience Behind “The Singing Therapy”. Hereld shares about her insights from the Second World Congress of Clinical Neuromusicology and mentions a specific type of music therapy, Melodic Intonation Therapy. As Hereld writes:

What this means for the whole of this ‘Singing Therapy’ is that by being able to work with brain regions such as Broca’s area which may facilitate the mapping of sound to action, all kinds of different strides may be made linguistically in patients with left-hemisphere brain damage. People who suffer from neurological impairments or disorders that would otherwise be completely unable to communicate verbally may now have that chance.

 

I have been volunteering at The Pavilion at The Osborne on Sunday mornings, facilitating movement to music. This began as a yoga session, but it is more a seated Sunday songfest of movement to music. Everyone has some mobility issue and everyone fits somewhere on the dementia –> Alzheimer’s spectrum. (You can read more about these sessions here.)

What I do know, from these sessions and from caring for my Dad, who coexisted with Alzheimer’s and who loved music, singing and dancing, is that music stays with people long after their ability for coherent conversation has taken leave. The music is the blessing.

The Love Affair between Music & Movement and Mind & Body

Listening to music with others causes the release of oxytocin, a chemical associated with feelings of trust and bonding. … Plus the nucleus accumbens – the brain’s well-known pleasure center – modulates levels of dopamine, the so called feel-good hormone.
Daniel J. Levitin, neuroscientist 

My Dad loved music, especially Broadway tunes, Sinatra songs, and Ella Fitzgerald, plus Columbia University ditties and tunes from World War II. My Dad also loved to move – dancing to music, shuffling and running to tennis and, when younger, sprinting short distances as well as longer cross country running. In his waning years, my Dad co-existed with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. While he lost the ability to move, his love of music and his ability to mimic a tune never left him. Indeed, I believe that music and song provided sustenance for him as he navigated those last five years of his life.

My Mom also loved music, being an avid and accomplished pianist, with a Masters of Music Composition earned when she was in her forties. She composed the music for our wedding ceremony. She nourished her Steinway piano until the last months of her life, playing magnificently up till a few weeks before a stroke left her paralyzed on her right side, taking away her ability to nourish herself through piano playing.

No surprise, then, that I, too, love music and dancing and playing the piano. And perhaps no surprise that the yoga I most want to teach is yoga that incorporates music, the marrying of movement and music.

Dance for PD is based upon the premise that dancers are skilled at understanding the fluidity with which their bodies move through space, and this is exactly the issue that people with Parkinson’s are trying to deal with – maintaing their balance and coordination despite their brains lessening lack of bodily control. Let Your Yoga Dance is an approach to yoga that meshes music with movement, and when doing this form with special populations, massages the two Ms to bring smiles and sensory stimulation to folks with Parkinson’s or folks needing to participate from the vantage point of sitting in a chair.

In Happy Birthday iPod!, an article in today’s Sunday Times, Daniel Levitin speaks of the positive impact that music has on the brain. Music, like exercise, causes good things to happen in our brains, which often translates to good things happening in our bodies!