Neuroscientific research on the languages of performance and dance. Research group: Alessandro Pontremoli, Edoardo Giovanni Carlotti, Rosalba Morese, Andrea Zardi, Maria Consuelo Valentini, Antonio Pizzo.

The Research Project (PRIN) Per-forming The Social project aims at a definition of an autonomous scientific statute of social theater practices, within the wider spectrum of performing arts, both as a resource for the socio-sanitary and socio-educational sections. In the road map of this research (mapping, model definition, practical verification, validation) a dialogue between the 5 universities started (University of Genoa, Turin, Pavia, La Sapienza di Roma and Università Cattolica di Milano) and carried out an international network of universities connected to them (more than 10 research institutions, European and non-European).

Video frames of the dance sequence recorded for the 3-tesla fMRI

The collaboration between the University of Turin and the NIT (Neuroscience Institute of Turin) focused on the correlation between the vision of the dance and the neural activations in the spectator. Above all, an in-depth study of the neural activation differences between the vision of movements of academic dance, contemporary dance and “common gestures” with a group of subjects without experience in dance and a group of professional dancers. This field of investigation, following these experimental activities – recently developed as a pilot study – contributed to deepen the knowledge about properties and functions of the NMS (System of neurons Mirror) in human subjects. The relationship between elements and structures of performative languages in the brain areas worked primarily in the planning and execution of motor actions, but also in the processing of proprioceptive sensations. Moreover, the coding/decoding of bodily signals on which social relationships are established and strengthened (non-verbal language and empathic communication).

In accordance with the literature — and with the possibilities of experimental methodologies — this research moves forward on the analysis (mainly through brain imaging techniques) of brain activation:resulting from the perception of the basic structures of performative language. The aim is to identify, according to the different degree of expertise of the involved subjects, the amount of changes that the specific training can make, starting from the brain level, to the individual psychophysical condition. The team of Turin University also worked on a first survey of theories and practices, related to the acquisition of skills (also ‘passive’ ones) about performance languages and individual psychophysical condition.


The most specific activations in control subjects – without dance experience – occurred in the ventral tegmental area (VTA): that one focuses on pleasure, motivation and dependence. Therefore, there is a gratifying attention to the observation of dance, especially academic and minor with contemporary dance, thus linked to the perception of symmetry, rationality, verticality and focus. This subcortical area is linked to an ancestral pleasure, ergo emotional. The activations in professional dancers are more evident in the right motor areas, linked to the perception of movement: this indicates a stimulation of the neuronal plasticity, a process of identification both physical and sensitive. This kind of understanding is typical of those who have experience of that specific movement, in a total identification and within an increase in proprioception skills.

The lack of activation of these areas with contemporary dance movements maybe is a result of the particular nature of that practice: the contemporary spectator needs to perceive these movements within a dramaturgical frame – built in a space and at the same time dilated – coming out of the conventional imagination of dance, well present in Western culture.


Zardi Andrea, La   percezione   del   corpo   in   scena   e   lo   spettatore.  Un   approccio neuro-scientifico. Mimesis Journal, 7,1 | 2018

Morese Rosalba (2019). Neuroni a specchio e arte – Simposio medico della Settimana del Cervello. 14 marzo, Lugano.

Sara Palermo, Rosalba Morese, Maurizio Zibetti, Mario Stanziano, Alessandro Piero Mario Pontremoli, Alberto Romagnolo, Giovanni Carlotti, Andrea Zardi, Maria Consuelo Valentini, Leonardo Lopiano. What happens when I watch a ballet? Preliminary fMRI findings on somatosensory empathy in Parkinson Disease – Parkinsonism and Related Disorders (2018, in submission).

Morese, Palermo, Pontremoli, Carlotti, Zardi, Valentini, Fogassi, The pleasure of watching classical ballet: a fMRI study, Scientific Reports, submitted.