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Cracked: gene secret for dancers

New Delhi, Feb. 8: Great dancers might owe their abilities not just to years of fatigue-defying practice but also to special genes that endow them with a unique capacity for creative dancing, a new study has indicated.

The study by scientists in Israel has found a connection between dance and two genes that influence chemicals in the brain that are believed to play a role in social communication and spiritual experiences ' two key facets of dance.

The Hebrew University researchers had also studied genetic and personality traits of dancers, non-dancers and 92 athletes ' chosen because they, too, require physical stamina just as dancers do. The combined results showed that the dancers exhibited specific genetic and personality traits not found in the other groups ' athletes and non-dancers.

Psychologist Richard Ebstein and his colleagues at the university in Jerusalem have shown that variants of two genes ' AVPR1A and SLC6A4 ' are different in dancers from the general population. Their study of 85 professional dancers and students of dancing and 872 non-dancers has shown that the two genes are over-represented in dancers and relatively scarce in non-dancers.

Reporting their findings in the journal Public Library of Science Genetics, the scientists said the two genes appear to be involved in the emotional side of dance rather than in the fine coordination required for the motion of limbs and bodies that dance demands.

The AVPR1A gene provides the genetic code for a molecule called the vasopressin receptor that can influence social communication. The researchers point out that the capacity for social communication is a prerequisite for a successful career as a dancer. And the SLC6A4 gene can control levels of the neurotransmitter called serotonin which, among its myriad functions, contributes to spiritual experiences.

The researchers said the link between serotonin and dance might be related to the need for “altered consciousness states” that professional dancers have sometimes claimed to experience while performing.

“The dancer is transformed into the character he or she is performing,” says eminent Kuchipudi dancer Raja Reddy. “When I perform the role of Shiva, mentally and physically, there’s a feeling of transformation into Nataraja.”

The study speculated that people with these genes might have altered serotonin levels that provide greater capacity for imagery and attention that talented individuals would need to perform in a dance.

Dance in diverse cultures, including Indian dance forms, involves spiritual experiences. Some performers have been known to enter a trance-like state of consciousness. “It’s a highly spiritual experience. You don’t even realise that the limbs are moving,” said Sandhya Desai, a senior teacher at the Kadamb Academy in Ahmedabad and the director of the Nritya Kala Kendra in Chicago.

Ebstein said dancers exhibit some qualities that are not necessarily lacking but not expressed as strongly in other people: a heightened sense of communication, often of a symbolic nature, and a strong spiritual personality trait.

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