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The study of the structure and function of the brain

From drawings of our earliest ancestors dancing to the contemporary importance of arts as a means for humans of any age to express themselves, dance has been central to our identity as people. But, why do humans dance? 


In collaboration with The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University, Sadye and Dr Constantina Theofanopoulou co-lead research asking this very question, specifically focusing on the neurobiology and associated genetics basis in the evolution of dance (see the press release here). While movement, of some sort, seems to be a universal desire, very few species have evolved the capacity of spontaneously and rhythmically coordinating their bodies (motor output) to sound (auditory input). This behavior is called rhythm entrainment and is one way to measure ‘dance’ as a distinct form of movement (see Snowball, a cockatoo parrot, dance!). 


Currently, she is collaborating on The Slowest Wave, a pioneering project combining butoh, an avant-garde art form born in Japan in the 1950s, and neuroscience. With Dr. Theofanopoulou, composer Ray Sweeten, and artistic director of the New York Butoh Institute Vangeline, this pilot project will study the relationship between human consciousness and dance through the use of elecroencepalography (EEG) to better understand what is happening in the brain. The first iteration of this project premiered at Triskelion Arts, Brooklyn, NY, as part of Vangeline’s Gibney Dance in Process Artist Residency in October 2022.


Sadye co-mentored with Dr. Theofanopoulou a group of students from the Interactive Telecommunications Masters’ Program at New York University (Jinny Kang, Qiongting Zhang, I-Jon Hsieh, and Stephanie Chen) on a project that led to the creation of an interactive 2-player rhythm game called Zooba Battle. The players are prompted to select a species (i.e., parrot, chimpanzee, lizard, elephant, sea lion, or chicken) and push on buttons based on how the species they selected would tap onto the rhythm of the song that they listen to while playing. In other words, the (human) players need to imitate (by pushing buttons) the timing of the rhythm synchronization that they think the selected species would achieve, not how they themselves as humans would respond to the rhythm. This project included a variety of technologies ranging from sensors and laser cutting to music script and coding.


Zooba Battle is based on studies and hypotheses on the link between vocal learning and rhythm entrainment (dance) in various species. One hypothesis argues that species with the ability to imitate complex vocalizations (i.e., humans, parrots, seals, bats, and a few others) will also be able to entrain their body movements to rhythm sounds, the precursor of the fully-fledged characteristic called ‘dance’ in humans. Additionally, the motor theory of vocal learning also suggests that brain regions supporting dance or dance-like behaviors will be adjacent to those supporting vocal learning.

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