Brain-Compatible Dance Education & BrainDance

What is Brain-Compatible Dance Education?

Brain-Compatible Dance Education (BCDE), the teaching philosophy at CDC, is a nationally and internationally recognized teaching methodology. BCDE is a structured methodology for teaching dance using a lesson plan and strategies that create an environment in which the brain is ready, willing, and able to learn. This holistic approach allows students the opportunity to become skilled dancers, critical thinkers, innovative creators, successful collaborators, and respectful responders.

All of our classes are planned and presented using brain-compatible principles that make learning fun and enjoyable for all types of students. Our teachers use a five-part lesson plan in which students explore a variety of dance concepts throughout the semester by (1) warming up with the BrainDance, (2) exploring the concept, (3) developing skills, (4) creating, and (5) cooling down. The five-part lesson plan alternates teacher-directed activities with student-centered activities, and skill development with improvisation. This structure provides the repetition and novelty that engages all types of learners.

Want to learn more about our methodology? Check out our resources and workshops!

What skills will my child cultivate with BCDE?

We facilitate holistic growth of our students through our five-part lesson plan. This includes being a:

  • Skilled Mover: BrainDance Variations, Developing Skills, Improvisation, Choreography
  • Critical Thinker: Understanding Dance Concepts, Improvisation, Observation, Reflection
  • Inventive Creator: Exploration of Dance Concepts, Improvisation, Choreography
  • Successful Collaborator: Leading, Following, Partner and Group Work
  • Respectful Responder: Observation, Reflection through various modes

What sets us/Brain-Compatible Dance Education apart?

Looking for a reason to enroll? You’re in the right place! We believe CDC is unique because we…

  1. Present meaningful curriculum through conceptual content for deeper understanding.
  2. Create an enriched, multi-sensory environment for stronger neuronal connections and better memory. 
  3. Give meaningful feedback that is timely (in the moment) and specific to create positive change. 
  4. Include opportunities for emotional engagement because emotions, thinking, and learning are linked. 
  5. Encourage social interaction as students learn best through collaboration and peer coaching. 
  6. Present a developmentally appropriate curriculum that is challenging yet achievable.
  7. Alternate teacher-directed and student-centered activities for a balanced brain and deep learning.
  8. Provide both novel and repetitious experiences for attention and retention.
  9. Offer a curriculum that is holistic and sequential for efficient and optimum learning.
  10. Provide information about nutrition and sleep to promote healthy bodies and brains.

And that’s just the start of what makes us unique! For more info on these principles, check out Brain-Compatible Dance Education, 2nd edition within our resources.

Read the breakdown of our five-part lesson plan

Our Five-Part Lesson Plan 

1. Warming-up: prepare body and mind for class – Teacher Directed

  • Eight BrainDance Patterns
  • Introduce the lesson concept (hear, say, see, do)

2. Exploring the Concept: internalize the elements of dance through guided improvisation – Space, Time, Force, Body – Student Centered

  • Explore the lesson concept through structured improvisation(s) alone, in duets, trios and small groups, and with props or instruments
  • Reflect on the exploration with peers

3. Developing Skills: practice steps, technique, and movement combinations – Teacher Directed

  • Learn and practice dance skills and steps integrating the lesson concept
  • Learn and practice dance phrases, movement combinations and short dances
  • Center work, floor BrainDance

4. Creating: build on explorations and skills to inspire improvisation and choreography – Student Centered

  • Generate new movement ideas based on the lesson concept through improvisation
  • Choreograph studies and dances incorporating choreographic devices, forms and principles

 5. Cool Down: bring closure to class by sharing studies and reflecting and reviewing – Synthesis

  • Share and evaluate improvisation and choreography
  • Review the lesson concept, stretch or reflect

Praise for BCDE and BrainDance

“I want to tell you what an extraordinary difference the BrainDance and the concepts have made in our teaching. We are seeing results in the first few weeks of school as opposed to the first few months. Teaching is actually easier.”

~ M. L., Dance Educator, Chardon OH


Praise for BCDE and BrainDance

The BrainDance “makes me feel awake.” “I feel open.” “I feel excited.” “I feel calm.” “I feel ready to learn.” “My brain feels alive.”

~ Students from a K-6 residency, Pocatello ID


Praise for BCDE and BrainDance

“My sons and I danced with your DVD last night and they loved it! First thing this morning, my 3 year old asked to dance again.”

~ J. G., Utah

Praise for BCDE and BrainDance

“I am using the BrainDance in my classes for adults with Down Syndrome during my Tennessee Arts Commission residency. They love the movements and are beginning to remember and verbalize the work.”

~ A. S., Dance Educator

Praise for BCDE and BrainDance

“All of my students do the BrainDance. I have taught it to most of the staff. Sometimes during my prep, I stop by various classrooms and give them a BrainDance break. At first, the teachers thought this would rile the kids up but they soon realized how well it works.”

~ S.J., Movement Teacher

Praise for BCDE and BrainDance

“I can’t say enough good things about using the BrainDance in my classroom. I have shared it with our staff, parents at curriculum night, and friends and family.”

~ M. G., 1st grade teacher, Everett WA

For Parents

Here at CDC we know trying new things can be an adventure for both parents and children alike. That’s why we’ve collected all of the info below to help you feel better prepared and learn how your child will benefit from Brain-Compatible Dance Education and how our BrainDance works.

Love the BrainDance already? Check out our resources for music recommendations and DVDs to continue the magic of learning through dance at home! Want to dive deeper into the origins and applications of the BrainDance? Keep reading below in our “for educators” section for more details!

So what exactly is the BrainDance?

BrainDance is an excellent full body and brain warm-up for children and adults and can be done in any setting. Developed by CDC founder Anne Green Gilbert, the BrainDance sequences through eight fundamental movement patterns of early human development.

The BrainDance may be used as a warm-up to prepare brain and body for any mental or physical activity:

  • Before dance class
  • Before exams
  • Before performances
  • Before giving or attending presentations
  • After sitting for long periods of time
  • As a break during computer work and TV watching; and to
  • Increase energy and reduce stress

It is a centering body/brain movement tool for brain reorganization, oxygenation, and recuperation. The BrainDance prepares us for learning and may help with social-emotional skills.

How will my child move during the BrainDance?

The BrainDance follows the fundamental movement patterns below. The BrainDance can be varied by integrating dance concepts and adding different dance styles, music, and props. It can be done lying down, seated on the floor, seated in chairs, or standing. This allows for a balance of repetition and novelty, which supports deep learning. Any movement that fits in the pattern can be explored! This makes for a fun, effective, and inclusive warm-up that is sequential and holistic.


  • Breath
  • Tactile
  • Core-Distal
  • Head-Tail
  • Upper-Lower
  • Body Side
  • Cross Lateral
  • Vestibular

How will my child benefit from the BrainDance?

It’s important to note the BrainDance and our Brain-Compatible Dance Education (BCDE) is not an alternative for therapy though it may feel therapeutic! Current brain research has proven that exercise in general:

  • Develops core strength
  • Reduces fatigue and stress
  • Increases attention and focus
  • May reduce depression by increasing the flow of serotonin and dopamine (feel good chemicals)
  • Maintains flexibility through the release of synovial fluid in our joints

As for the BrainDance specifically, the BrainDance is exercise “plus.” Besides the benefits listed above, the movements replicate neurodevelopmental patterns that help to wire the central nervous system in early childhood. These movements help to lay the foundation for sensory-motor development and life-long learning. The BrainDance is a supportive exercise that can help to keep the brain and body strong and healthy throughout one’s lifetime.

For Educators

We’ve curated the following Q&A below for educators interested in expanding their knowledge of Brain-Compatible Dance Education and the BrainDance. If you are interested in learning more we offer workshops specifically for educators and have plenty of resources with recommendations for books, dance materials, and more. 

What are the origins of the BrainDance?

BrainDance is an exercise developed by Anne Green Gilbert in 2000. It is based on the Fundamental Movement Patterns that babies move through in their first year. The movement patterns help to initiate and integrate primary reflexes to wire the central nervous system, laying the foundation for appropriate behavior and attention, eye convergence necessary for reading, sensory-motor development, and more. The BrainDance is a flexible framework, not a rigid exercise, that is sequential and holistic.

The seeds for the BrainDance began in the 1970s when Anne’s interest in the body-brain connection was inspired by Newall Kephart’s work. She was also introduced to Bartenieff Fundamentals by Krista Harris. Bartenieff Fundamentals are, like so many somatic practices, based on the developmental movement patterns that babies progress through in building the central nervous system and brain. Anne connected with Bette Lamont who was working with Florence Scott in Neurodevelopment Movement Therapy. Their theory that crawling, creeping, and other basic movements help integrate our brains and bodies resonated with Anne. Anne also studied the work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and neurocellular patterns.

Bartenieff Fundamentals and neurodevelopmental patterning are primarily done on the floor for 20-30 minutes. In her school dance residencies, Anne wasn’t given the time or space to do such work, so she created a short warm up sequence of standing and seated exercises that quickly moved students through eight movement patterns in developmental order. Anne noticed positive differences in her students and herself after moving through the BrainDance patterns. The BrainDance helps us become focused, energized, and ready to learn.  Since 2000, Anne has developed many variations for all ages and abilities.


The eight patterns are: Breath, Tactile, Core-Distal, Head-Tail, Upper-Lower, Body-Side, Cross Lateral and Vestibular.

What are the benefits of the BrainDance for my students?

Increased blood and oxygen flow to the respiratory system and brain: Because oxygen and blood are food for the brain, deep breathing and aerobic exercise are essential for a fully functioning brain and body. Oxygenation reduces stress and brings flow and ease to all movement. Blood and oxygen flow to the brain improves one’s ability to stay focused. 

Reorganization of the neurological system: The developmental movement patterns aid in laying the foundation for sensory-motor development and life long learning. When patterns are missed or disrupted there may be missing gaps in a person’s neurological development. These gaps may cause neurological issues that could later appear as learning, behavior and memory problems, sleep disorders, speech, balance or filtering problems, and other difficulties that may disrupt the flow of normal development. Cycling through the BrainDance patterns on a daily basis may correct flaws in one’s perceptual process, helping to develop better proprioception, balance, attention, memory, eye-tracking, behavior, sensory integration, and motor skills. Neurological repatterning helps to coordinate all parts of the brain and body for emotional, social, and cognitive balance.

Enhanced core support, connectivity, and alignment: The BrainDance reviews for us the early baby patterns that lay down structure in the neuromuscular system, influence brain development, and help us cope with the world in an embodied way. These patterns, done in an orderly progression, help us remember the parts of our visceral and muscular system that support our body structure. Each pattern underlies and supports the next pattern. When done in succession, they bring a wholeness, aliveness, and connectivity to our use of the body, which reflects an integration of body and mind. By separating the eight patterns we become more aware of each pattern. This allows us to focus on a particular pattern to ease blocked body/mind areas. The developmental patterns are the foundation for all movement. Patterns establish internal and external gradated rotation in proximal joints, laying the foundation for alignment in the upper and lower body. Awareness of body mechanics and inner connectivity develops physical balance and coordination needed for performing complex sequences of movements in sports and dance. 

Deeper understanding of the elements of dance technique: Focusing on BrainDance patterns at the beginning of a dance class helps dancers become more articulate and expressive as the developmental movement patterns are an integral part of dance. The patterns of the BrainDance are fundamental to all forms of dance. Students who have warmed-up with the BrainDance are able to integrate and apply the patterns to their technical skill development. Movement intent becomes clearer as dancers embody the BrainDance patterns. Dancers gain a new vocabulary that allows them to be more articulate physically and verbally. The patterns provide a new entry point for teaching the mechanics of steps and movement.

How do I explain the basis of the BrainDance to students and/or parents?

Great question! Our founder Anne Green Gilbert, modeled the BrainDance sequence on eight fundamental movement patterns that healthy humans move through in the first year of life. This is also valuable information for new parents on how to give their baby a great start!

Breath, Tactile, & Core-Distal

The baby does his or her own BrainDance very naturally in the first twelve months of life if put on a smooth, non-carpeted surface on the floor. Carpets and blankets may inhibit developmental movement. Baby moves most successfully when hands, legs and feet are bare (as in a “onesie”). Caregivers may enhance baby’s development through interaction and shared play on the floor… floor time is healthy for babies and adults!

  • Baby’s first breath initiates dendritic branching from brain cells.
  • Tactile stimulation begins with the first touch of skin on skin. Bonding is developed through close contact with loving caregivers. The sensory-motor system is developed as baby explores a variety of objects and textures.
  • In the first two months of life the baby will reach into space in order to connect with her environment (extension) and curl back into the womb position (flexion), demonstrating the core-distal pattern.

Head-Tail, Upper-Lower, Body Side, Cross Lateral & Vestibular

  • At two months the baby has better head control and will lift and turn the head in both directions continuing the head-tail pattern begun in the womb.
  • Upper and lower body halves are strengthened as the baby pushes with the arms and hands and then with feet and knees. Near and far vision is also developed.
  • Between five and seven months, the baby reaches with one side of the body, moving the left half of the body as one unit and then the right half. After integrating the body-side belly crawl, the baby will move in a cross lateral belly crawl. As the baby crawls on their belly they will develop horizontal eye tracking.
  • Between seven and nine months, baby pushes herself up onto hands and knees and repeats the upper-lower push-pull pattern. Baby then creeps on hands and knees in a body side pattern before creeping on hands and knees in a cross lateral pattern. Vertical eye tracking is part of the growth triggered by creeping on hands and knees. The convergence of horizontal and vertical eye tracking is essential for reading. From one-year onward cross lateral patterns appear in walking, running, and eventually skipping.
  • The vestibular system begins developing in utero, stimulated by the parent’s movement. This system continues to be very active through the first fifteen months of life as baby is rocked, held in different positions, and independently rolls, creeps and sits up. The vestibular system analyzes movements through the whole body, helps us know where we are in space, and links up to all forms of sensory information. This very important system is used when we read, hear, speak, touch, balance, and move.

How can I incorporate eye tracking in the BrainDance?

Vision, in neuro-typical development, is the sense we most rely on. The infant spends the first 18 months of life working very hard to develop the visual sense by tracking their hands, reaching for objects (use props in the BrainDance and in other parts of class to strengthen coordination between hands/feet and eyes), looking for faces (incorporate social interaction by following and relating to others in the BrainDance and in dance class), and tracking sounds (as a teacher change your place in the room frequently, use music with variety). Eye-tracking and movement contribute to building the vestibular and proprioceptive systems in the early years and help maintain and strengthen these systems throughout our lifetime.

Encourage students of all ages to eye track in different ways throughout the BrainDance. For example, ask students to close their eyes during the breath pattern to rest the visual sense and strengthen balance; follow a hand with eyes as much as possible in the tactile pattern; follow hands in the core-distal pattern as the hands curl into core and then reach out through space, alternating which hand one looks at each time one reaches into space for near and far eye tracking. In the upper body pattern, students track hands and feet again as they move in different ways for near and far, horizontal and vertical eye tracking. To strengthen horizontal eye tracking in the body side pattern, students open and close each side of the body as they track the right hand when the right body-side opens and closes and then left hand when the left body-side opens and closes. To strengthen near and far eye-tracking, students reach right side forward and back to the torso as they track right hand then left side forward and back, tracking left hand. To strengthen vertical eye tracking in the cross-lateral pattern, students lift the right arm and left leg up and down (and then left leg and right arm) as they track either hand up and down. 

Another choice is to add a special eye-tracking section between two patterns or at the end of the BrainDance after the vestibular pattern. 

Read our breakdown of BrainDance Structure and Benefits

Use the descriptions below to do your own simple BrainDance and learn the benefits of each pattern.

BrainDance Structure (basic) Anne Green Gilbert © 2000

We’ve listed a few specific benefits of each pattern below. For more detail, refer to Peggy Hackney’s Making Connections: Total Body Integration through Bartenieff Fundamentals (1998) or check out our resources.

  1. Breath: Exhale through the mouth gently as if blowing out a candle then inhale through the nose, filling the belly, diaphragm, and lungs with air. Repeat 4-5 times. Benefits: increases flow of oxygen to the brain; brings awareness of importance of breath for ease and flow of movement; reduces stress and enlivens brain and body. “Oneness – cellular breathing, flowing in and flowing out.” 
  1. Tactile: With your hands, squeeze strongly each arm and leg and the torso, back, head (whole body). Then tap lightly whole body, then slap sharply whole body, then brush smoothly whole body. Explore other forms of touch such as scratching, patting, rubbing, etc. Benefits: strengthens bonding; develops appropriate sense of touch and sensory integration. “Tension masks sensation – tight muscles can’t feel.”
  1. Core-Distal: Curl into core as you engage core muscles. Then move from the center out, through and beyond the fingers, toes, head, and tail (distal ends), keeping core engaged (like a starfish). Try movement involving the whole body that grows and shrinks, stretches and curls in big “X”s and little “o”s, symmetrically and asymmetrically.  Benefits: strengthens relationship to self & others; helps regulate the sensory system through full body extension (activation) and flexion (relaxation); develops awareness of core for correct alignment. “Twoness–self & others.”
  1. Head-Tail: Gently bend, twist and stretch the spine from head to tail (coccyx) in different directions and pathways. Keeping the knees slightly bent helps release the pelvis. Wiggle, undulate, and shake spine gently. Circle and swing the head and hips. Explore yoga positions such as cat-cow, downward facing dog, and sphinx.  Benefits: increases spine flexibility and develops neck and shoulder strength; helps one move through space with ease; creates an open path for the central nervous system to function fully. “Lively Spine–body attitude is determined at a spinal level.”
  1. Upper-Lower: Ground the lower half of the body by releasing/yielding into the floor with a slight knee bend. Swing, bend, stretch, and rotate upper body (arms, head, torso) while varying speed, level, and direction. Ground upper half by reaching arms out into space with energy as though you were hugging the earth or keep upper body stable in other positions. Dance with lower half (feet, legs, hips): try marching, bending knees, jumping, swinging legs, and other actions.  Lying on stomach with legs extended, curl toes under and rest on elbows – push forward and back from upper to lower. Benefits: articulates body halves for mobility/stability, function, and expression; develops emotional stability through connection to earth with whole body. “Mobility/Stability–function & expression work together.”
  1. Body Side: Bend, twist, stretch, and shake the left side of your body while keeping the right side stable. Then keep the left stable while moving the right side. Alternate moving right and left sides by doing a body side walk or lunging in different directions.  Do the lizard crawl on your belly or standing with arms and legs open to the sides – reach left arm and knee up then right arm and knee up like a lizard crawling up a wall. To develop horizontal eye tracking, follow thumb left to right and right to leftBenefits: articulates body sides; strengthens and balances both sides of the body and brain hemispheres; develops horizontal eye-tracking (necessary for reading) and side dominance. “Polarities – clarifying issues and making choices.”
  1. Cross Lateral: Do a cross lateral dance sitting, standing, or lying. Explore many ways of moving cross laterally such as touching right knee to left elbow, left hand to right foot, right hand to left knee, left hand to right hip, walking, skipping, leaping, etc. Perform contra-lateral movements (not crossing midline) by moving left leg and right arm then right leg and left arm in various ways. Crawl on belly and creep on hands and knees or do a parallel standing cross crawl with knees and hands in front of you.  For vertical eye-tracking, follow hand up and down with eyes. To strengthen near and far vision, follow thumb away from and toward your nose. Benefits: integrates brain hemispheres; strengthens vertical eye-tracking; develops complex, three dimensional dancing and thinking. “Robust Thinking.”

8. Vestibular: Choose a movement that takes you off balance and makes you slightly dizzy. (Slight dizziness followed by stabilization, stimulates and strengthens the balance system.) Vary the movements you do each week. Swing upper body forward and backward and side-to-side. Tip, sway, roll, and rock in different directions and on various levels. Spin 10-15 seconds one direction, breathe and rest 15 seconds, then spin 10-15 seconds the other direction. Remember, the stillness after spinning is what strengthens the balance system. First we challenge the vestibular system and then allow the system to settle and develop stronger connections. People with compromised balance systems should do this pattern seated on the floor or in a chair by rocking side to side and forward and back. Benefits: develops spatial awareness, balance, and coordination; strengthens the system that controls the five senses. “The First Sense.”