Does Dancing Help Memory


A November 2020 video of the late Marta Gonzalez, former prima ballerina in the 1960s, was released on Youtube by Asociación Música para Despertar. The Spanish charity that provides therapy for dementia patients by using music that was significant to their lives.

The most remarkable part wasn’t even the fact that Ms. Gonzalez had picked up the choreography she hadn’t rehearsed in years without a hitch. It was the fact that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease at the time.

How does dancing help memory? The complex cross-body movements of dancing exercise the procedural memory system. Furthermore, ballet requires intensive rehearsal of movements until it is encoded in muscle memory, which is why Ms. Gonzalez was able to recall the choreography seamlessly even with Alzheimer's.

The video features Ms. Gonzalez, sitting in her wheelchair at a nursing home in Valencia, listening to the finale of Swan Lake through a set of headphones. As the music plays, she begins to gracefully go through the motions of the choreography she’d learned years ago, almost as if transported back in time to her performing days. 

Like riding a bicycle.

“Fifty-three years ago she was a dancer with the New York Ballet. Tchaicovsky's music managed to outwit her Alzheimer's. It's been a year since all this,” Banderas said in his Facebook post.

“Now on the occasion of her death, the sharing of these images serve as a deserved recognition of her art and her passion. R.I.P. Marta C. González.”

NPR did pointed out there is no such known company as “the New York Ballet,” and the New York City Ballet does not list González Saldaña among its alumni. Ballet scholars are chasing details about her identity, which remains shrouded in mystery .

NPR also reports, the ballerina footage spliced into González Saldaña's remembrance is said to be of a former prima ballerina from Russia's Mariinsky Ballet, Uliana Lopatkina, performing not Tchaikovsky's ballet, but the solo piece “The Dying Swan,” from French composer Camille Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals.

Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. A study found that giving patients personal music playlists resulted in a 60 per cent reduction in the need for medication. (

Memory provides us with a mental representation based on preconceived knowledge. It can be encoded, stored, and retrieved. Encoding is the processing of information into the memory system. Storage is the retention of encoded material. Retrieval is the process of getting the information out of memory storage. However, memory can be reconstructed. It is an infinite storage system that keeps changing.

Memory is orchestrated by several functions in several different areas of the brain which form the memory network. Different regions of the brain contribute to learning and memory in different ways. Some regions are specialized for words, others for perceptual learning, and others for remembering episodes from one’s life.

  • Short-term memory (STM) is one part of the model of memory. It has limited capacity and duration. Recent and relevant information is held in the STM in a temporary store.
  • Long-term memory (LTM) is another part of the model of memory. It has unlimited storage, is relatively permanent, and is stored for episodic and semantic memory. 

Information in the STM can be “transferred” to LTM for storage when rehearsed enough times. However, memory cannot be stored forever unless it has been retrieved and rehearsed. For evolutionary reasons, forgetting will occur as the memory trace fades with time. When the memory trace is no longer available, it cannot be retrieved. Some memory traces interfere with the retrieval of others, making the memory trace no longer accessible, hence, forgetting. A deficit of acquired LTM is amnesia, and it occurs when remembering requires overt reference to the learning phase. It can be due to brain lesions (neurogenic amnesia) or psychological factors (psychogenic amnesia).

Procedural memory, a form of long-term memory, underlies our habits and learned sequences of movement, making it so we don’t need to think much about how to walk, row a boat, or perform our favorite dance. It’s also the form of memory that stays intact longer in people with Alzheimer’s disease and it may help people compensate for losses in short-term memory.


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Author: Bronte
Psychology BSc undergrad with a chronic addiction to iced oat lattes. Big on rock climbing, reading and religiously watching chiropractor videos on Youtube.
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