Dance, Music, & Neuroscience: A Groundbreaking Intersection

Dance, Music, & Neuroscience: A Groundbreaking Intersection

February 24, 2023

by Nifemi Bola

CAM Media Contact: Jackie Swan

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Evelyn Toh wearing an EEG cap during a LiveWire performance with music by Musiqa (left). Photo by Lynn Lane.

The human brain is an organ of many wonders, and scientists continue to think outside of the box to study it. One of these methods includes LiveWire, a project two years in the making that aims at understanding the brain’s activity during dance. The project is comprised of a collaboration between SHSU Dance faculty Andy and Dionne Noble, University of Houston faculty Dr. Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, and Rice University faculty Anthony Brandt.  

To understand the workings of the brain during a performance, scientists from the University of Houston’s BRAIN Center fitted dancers, including SHSU alumni Shohei Iwahama ‘22 and Evelyn Toh ‘21, with EEG caps to monitor their brain activity. These specialized caps were designed by Contreras-Vidal, a neuroscientist and director of the BRAIN Center. He has also pioneered non-surgical brain interfaces to study the human brain in different settings ranging from classroom to clinical. 

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Shohei Iwahama (left) wearing an EEG cap during a LiveWire performance. Photo by Lynn Lane.

Professor Andy Noble and associate professor Dionne Noble have worked at SHSU since 2008 and also direct the nonprofit professional dance company NobleMotion. Brandt, composer and artistic director of Musiqa at Rice University, invited the Nobles to contribute to the choreography of the project. Brandt composed the music for LiveWire, which was performed by Musiqa and consisted of a string quartet in five movements, each illustrating a different feature of the brain.  

“Essentially, we created an artistic map of the brain,” Andy Noble said as he described his and Dionne’s different approach to the choreography.

LiveWire was first presented in January 2022 in Houston at THE MATCH. Then, the project was presented at Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in April as part of the 2022 International Workshop on the Neural and Social Bases of Creative Movement. The University of Houston will also use the results of the LiveWire project for research.  

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Toh and Iwahama wearing EEG brain caps as their activity is monitored in the background. Photo by Lynn Lane.

“Anytime artists and scientists — two fields focused on discovery — can interact and learn from one another is a good thing. Notably, as far as we know, LiveWire represents one of the first dances to be both a performance and an experiment at the same time. The level of collaboration in creating this project was quite involved,” said Andy Noble.

Dionne adds, “What is exciting about this project is that artists and scientists from three different Texas universities joined forces to share ideas, learn from one another, and ultimately create art that speaks to the uniqueness of the human mind.”