Since MCO started, I’ve been using Just Dance on the Nintendo Switch as part of my workouts. At first, I did it because it was one of the few things my knee could tolerate after I injured it. Even after my knee got better, I continued with it because it added variety to my workouts. It was also a fun way to get some extra cardio in. Seeing my scores go up each time I practiced a new dance was pretty motivating.
Dancing is Good for the Brain
Possibly the biggest reason I continue Just Dance is for the reason I read in an article about exercise, movement, and the brain:
What kind of bodily movement is best for boosting brain action? When asked the question, John Ratey, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School points to activities that are aerobic and involve learning movement patterns. “The more complex the movements, the more complex the synaptic connections. And even though these circuits are created through movement, they can be recruited by other areas and used for thinking… The prefrontal cortex will co-opt the mental power of the physical skills and apply it to other situations”.
His analysis points to dance, and the perspective of bodily becoming illuminates the significance of doing so. Dance is not simply exercise. It is not simply bodily movement. Dance is the kind of exercise that requires the brain to do what it does when it is involved in any activity at all. It does not simply oxygenate the brain and enable the creation of connections; it challenges neurons to make new connections. It does not just spur the grown of new and better brain cells, it puts them to use, creating patterns of sensation and response that form the basis of all of our patterns of attention and action. Dancing exercises the self-creating rhythms that are who we are as brain cells, full bodily movements, and at every scale in between.Psychology Today
There is already plenty of evidence linking cardiovascular exercise to improved brain health (my obsession). Throwing in those complex dance movements is the icing on the cake. Being the kiasu person that I am, I’ve always liked nailing five birds with one stone.
Just Dance offers songs with dance complexities from one star (easy) to four stars (extreme). When you complete each dance, based on how many moves you do correctly (okay, good, super, or perfect), you will receive a score at the end of the song. Scores can range from one star to five stars. If you exceed five stars, you can earn “Superstar” (next level up) or “Megastar” (highest level).
As a person with three left feet, even some of the one-star songs were tripping me up. When it came to the extreme levels, I felt like I’m flailing my arms and legs around like a crazy woman. It was so ridiculously challenging that I skipped them. Eventually, I managed to earn “Megastar” on all the easier songs and it seemed like I was ready to level up.
When You Level Up
I chose one of the extreme dance songs that I liked and worked on it, like a project. After all my “dance practice” with the easier songs, I thought I would at least be marginally better. I wasn’t. Even though I was butchering all the moves, I persisted. By about the fifth day, or maybe it was the tenth, something magical happened – I started to “get” the moves. I was also beginning to anticipate what came next.
I felt like I had walked into a room full of people speaking a language I couldn’t understand and Ford Prefect had stuck a Babel fish into my ear. The meaningless humming from a foreign tongue had found a form and shape that I could finally make sense of.
It was like the time I first visited Dengue Wall in Nyamuk, Batu Caves. I was a newbie rock climber and that section was a place only the experienced climbers could climb. I looked at the wall and all I could see was how smooth it was. I couldn’t see anything to hold on to and I wondered how anyone could climb it. After nearly two years of intense climbing practice, I finally became good enough to “see” the holds.
Just like the holds in Dengue wall, it took days of persistent dance practice to “see” the moves. When I first started, everything rushed by so fast, it felt like watching a video in fast motion. As with learning to play a difficult piece on the piano, I had to imprint the moves into my memory. It isn’t exactly learning by heart, because I still wouldn’t be able to complete the entire dance without the music. I just know what’s coming if I follow the song.
I’ve since started on two new extreme level songs and I am just as terrible at them as I was when I started the first one. It also feels like I have no idea what’s going on initially and all I can do is swing my limbs in mad fashion in an effort to keep up. It’s been several days since I started them and I feel like I am slowly making sense of the moves.
Our Marvellous Brain
A lot of things are difficult at the start. You won’t feel like practicing because it is discouraging to blunder your way through. It will seem as if you’re never going to get it. But you will – only if you keep at it. It might be the fifth day, or maybe the tenth; your brain will learn. Every day that you practice, your brain will be thinking about it even when you’re asleep. When you try it again and again, the fog will clear, and you will finally see.
It is easy to practice what we’re already good at because it’s fun. The challenge is to practice the stuff we aren’t good at – the stuff that’s hard and un-fun.