Ballet dancers don’t get dizzy like the rest of us

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

ballet shoes
Ballet dancers spin so frequently that their brains adapt to the movement. As a result, the dancers don’t get dizzy as quickly as other people do.

Isn’t being dizzy one of the worst feelings ever? Even though the ground you’re standing on is perfectly still, you sway sickeningly until you want to puke! Well, according to a team from Imperial College London, it happens to just about everyone… except experienced ballet dancers.

“It’s not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance,” said Dr. Barry Seemungal, who led the study. “Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input.” What input is he talking about exactly? Well, there is an organ inside our ears that’s filled with a liquid. If we spin around, it moves and tickles tiny hairs inside. When we twirl several times then suddenly stop, it continues to move around and tickle the hairs, which in turn sends a signal to the brain. The result? That sickening dizzy feeling.

Ballet dancers, on the other hand, can have the liquid swilling around and not feel dizzy, because their brains adapt to the stomach-lurching movements. In a move known as a pirouette, dancers spin in one spot. Most of the time though, they have to spin many times in a row! After tons of training, the hairs in their ears get used to the constant movement, so there’s barely a signal sent to the brain. If a non-ballet dancer were to pirouette multiple times, they would be stumbling all over the place until their balance came back!

“What’s really interesting is what ballet dancers have done is refine and make precise the instruction to the brain so that actually the brain has shrunk,” said Deborah Bull, a former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, who is now the executive director of the Cultural Institute at King’s College.

The Imperial College London researchers are hoping to use this information to treat patients who suffer from chronic dizziness, a condition where the they feel dizzy for long periods of time throughout the entire day.

Featured image courtesy of jeff medaugh on Wikimedia.