Biofeedback in Dance Training

A recent conversation with a dance student/friend got me thinking about how important biofeedback is in the movement-learning process. As you read this, think about whether you are getting enough biofeedback in your dance training.

What is Biofeedback?

Simply put, biofeedback is a process through which a person receives information about the body’s activity. Biofeedback is used in rehabilitation therapy as well as in sports. We can broaden the concept to apply to movement training such as dance.

Examples of Biofeedback

Certain machines – such as electrocardiographs – are designed to provide biofeedback on functions such as muscle activity, temperature, oxygenation and other body functions/modes. The idea is to provide the individual with knowledge about how their activity, movement, exercises etc. are affecting the body – particularly parts that are difficult to mentally access, such as the heart or a very specific injured muscle.

In the context of learning or training in a dance, biofeedback might include:

  • Touch – to help a student identify the correct body part to engage or move, a coach can physically touch that part of a student’s body to help the brain learn more quickly how to engage that body part or group of muscles.
  • Exercise – again to help one identify a body part and whether it is being properly engaged, a coach can offer a student exercises that help the brain to isolate that body part and train it to move in the correct way.
  • Video – while not really “biofeedback” in the strict sense, I feel that video provides a student with valuable information about the body. In particular, watching a video of one’s own dancing is an effective way to help the brain connect how an action or movement FEELS with how it looks, and to make appropriate adjustments.
  • Visual examples – often, a coach can mimic your movement to show you what you are doing, side-by-side with the movement that is trying to be achieved. Like video (but faster and more specific), this can help the brain connect what the body is doing/feeling with how it looks.

Become Body-Aware

Proprioception is the clinical term for “body awareness”. Some of us are more naturally body-aware than others, and the greater one’s proprioception is, the faster and easier it is to learn and assimilate new movement habits in our bodies.

No what matter your current level of body awareness is, the brain can be trained to increase its proprioception. These are some activities that I have found to improve body awareness:

  1. Training in movement technique. While learning dance steps/figures is great for memory and improving psycho-motor skills, it doesn’t necessarily improve body awareness. Training in movement TECHNIQUE, however, can dramatically improve body awareness. It requires commitment and patience, because it involves a great deal of repetition of sometimes minute movements. But it’s effective in training the brain and body to acquire the motor skills and order of physical actions required to achieve a particular look, style or movement.
  2. Training in new or various sports or physical arts. To improve at any physical activity requires repetition of movements, and the more variety you can get in your physical activity (assuming that the activity is something you are consciously thinking about and trying to improve), the greater your body awareness will become. Cross-training between forms of movement is also valuable to help the body and brain learn, through contrast and comparison.
  3. Working with a good coach or trainer. While my proprioception is naturally strong, I have learned exactly what’s going on in my body primarily through my personal trainer. Regular training provides many of the benefits mentioned throughout this article; in addition, she provides biofeedback through touch and focuses on excellent technique.

When I teach, I also like to provide biofeedback though touch, exercises and visual example, and I encourage students to let me video tape them (although very few take me up on the offer!).