Rumba Recall

Does dancing prevent memory loss? Emma Rutter ’23 takes the steps to find out.

Rumba Recall

When we think about dance, we probably categorize it as art or entertainment rather than science. Neuroscience and dance double-major Emma Rutter ’23 disagrees. And she’s taking the steps to prove it. (Pun intended.)

Rutter trained in ballet for 10 years and now teaches her own ballet classes. Balancing 25 hours of dance a week on top of school helped her develop strong time management skills, focus, and creativity.

As a student fellow for the Center for the Arts and Humanities (CAH), Rutter is researching the connection between dance education and long-term memory over her senior year. The project results will be made into an educational infographic that the Department of Theatre and Dance can use to advocate for more funding.

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Dancer and neurology student Emma Rutter ’23 brought together her two passions in research examining dancing’s impact on memory. / Images by Jim Gensheimer

Rutter came up with the project after taking a neuroscience course that studied how aerobic exercise in sports aids in Alzheimer’s prevention. But she was dismayed that the class did not include dance in the list of health-beneficial sports. So she decided to prove that it should be.

“Unlike other sports, dancers often train in intervals. Dancers usually have 30 to 40 seconds of high-intensity, muscle-building workouts followed by a minute of cool-down, which does not keep heart-rate stagnant,” Rutter says. “Dance movement has health benefits that deserve attention, like memory recall. Because many people struggle with Alzheimer’s, I am excited to explore dance as a preventative intervention at all ages.”

Rutter is currently analyzing previously conducted research about how dance helps humans develop stronger long-term memory and motor skills. “My experiment ideas are still in the works, but I am planning to survey people of all age groups to assess a wide range of dance health benefits,” Rutter says.

With the dance department’s recent budget cuts, Rutter hopes her findings on dance’s cognitive advantages can help increase funding. “I hope my research can remind SCU of the importance of learning through a creative lens and the University’s holistic approach to student education,” she says.

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