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Music and Dance

The lab’s music and dance research covers two main areas. Using eye-movement analysis, the first concerns the observation of dance, particularly in relation to human entrainment and synchronization. This research seeks to understand the evolutionary-adaptive functions of music and dance. The second area investigates the possible benefits of dance for the rehabilitation of people with Parkinson’s disease (PD). This research is conducted in collaboration with Hamilton City Ballet, which runs classes specifically for PD patients.

Dance & Parkinson’s

This interdisciplinary project has two main goals:

  1. Create technology-based dance systems for people with Parkinson’s Disease (PD)
  2. Use these systems to carry out studies examining the effects of music and dance on people with PD

Music and dance have positive therapeutic effects for people with PD—the use of music with a clear rhythm has been shown to improve gait and timed actions, allowing complex movements to be completed more easily. For example, a 2012 study, in which people walked for short durations listening only to a rhythmical pulse, demonstrated improvements in both gait speed and stride length. The benefits of music and dance extend beyond movement—non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s such as anxiety, depression, and negative moods, can also be improved. As a therapy, dance incorporates the benefits of music while also introducing specific movement-coordination tasks. Dancing with others is (usually) enjoyable, and fosters a sense of community. It is hoped that the introduction of technology-based activities will enhance the benefits seen in similar programs.


The lab’s dance and Parkinson’s research is conducted in collaboration with the Hamilton City Ballet Dance for Parkinson’s program. Coordinated by program manager Jody Van De Klippe [B.A.Sc. (Hon.), CLSt. (Dip)], HCB’s D4P classes are among a growing number of therapeutic dance intervention programs within Canada. The founders and Artistic Directors of HCB, Melania Pawliw, and Max Ratevosian, provide expert choreography and instruction for the classes; both are classically trained and have enjoyed international ballet careers.

Typically, fall, spring, and summer semesters consist of six classes, occurring every other week. Classes take place in a spacious community hall, and demand for the program is growing. We are delighted to be able to partner with the HCB D4P program with the intention of supporting the local PD community and the broader aims of the program.

Dance Technology

Our technology-based activities are designed for everyday home use, thereby bridging the gap between HCB’s D4P classes. The system uses a low-cost motion-sensing camera, Microsoft’s KinectTM, which is linked to a computer and monitor, displaying a dancing avatar. Users’ movements are input into the computer via the camera. Each activity is based on a dance from the main D4P program; the aim is to complement the instruction participants receive in class. Choreography is designed to provide a wide variety of movements, such as joint rotation, quick and smooth movements, and rhythmic clapping. See below for a demonstration video.

An earlier version of the system (developed in 2014) superimposed user-movement data onto videos of the dancer; the aim was for a user to match their hand movements to those of the dancer. The system was field tested in the homes of people with PD and potential difficulties and issues were identified. User feedback was used to guide the subsequent development of the technology.


*bolding indicates lab students 

In 2017-18, the lab conducted a clinical pilot study investigating possible neurophysiological effects of music and dance on Parkinson’s. To help with the project, we were pleased to partner with Dr. Rick Paulseth, Director of the Movement Disorders Clinic at St. Peter’s Hospital, and Dr. Mike Noseworthy, Director of Imaging Physics and Engineering, Imaging Research Centre, St. Joseph’s Healthcare. Six PD patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and clinical assessments prior to and following four weeks of music and dance intervention using our technology. MRI investigated neurological attributes associated with PD such as brain-iron content, microvascular perfusion, and cortical thinning. Using the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale, clinical assessments investigated the effects of the intervention on mentation, daily living, and motor abilities. The results of the study were presented at the 15th International Conference on Music Perception & Cognition in Montreal in Summer 2018.

Bansal, J., Chhin, A., Zaranek, A., Balas, M., Noseworthy, M., Paulseth, J., Woolhouse, M.H. (2018). Neurophysiological effects of dance technologies on the development of Parkinson’s Disease. In Parncutt, R., & Sattmann, S (PDF). (Eds.) Proceedings of ICMPC15/ESCOM10, 67-70. Graz, Austria: Centre for Systematic Musicology, University of Graz.

Representative Publications*

*bolding indicates lab students

Tang Poy, C. & Woolhouse, M. H. (2020). The attraction of synchrony: A hip-hop dance study. Frontiers in Psychology. 11: 2991. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.588935.

Ponmanadiyil, R., & Woolhouse, M. H. (2018). Eye movements, attention, and expert knowledge in the observation of Bharatanatyam dance (PDF)Journal of Eye Movement Research11(2):11, 1-12.

Bansal, J., Chhin, A., Zaranek, A., Balas, M., Noseworthy, M., Paulseth, J., Woolhouse, M.H. (2018). Neurophysiological effects of dance technologies on the development of Parkinson’s Disease (PDF). In Parncutt, R., & Sattmann, S. (Eds.) Proceedings of ICMPC15/ESCOM10, 67-70. Graz, Austria: Centre for Systematic Musicology, University of Graz.

Swarbrick, D., Bosnyak, D., Livingstone, S. R., Bansal, J., Marsh-Rollo, S., Woolhouse, M. H., & Trainor, L. J. (2018). How live music moves us: Head movement differences in audiences to live versus recorded music. Frontiers in Psychology. 9:2682.

Woolhouse, M. H., Tidhar, D. & Cross, I. (2016). Effects on interpersonal memory of dancing in time with others. Frontiers in Psychology. 7/167: 1-8.

Woolhouse, M. H., & Zaranek, A. (2016). Intuitive navigation in computer applications for people with Parkinson’s (PDF). Journal of Biomusical Engineering. 4/1: 115-123. DOI:10.4172/2090-2719.1000115.

Woolhouse, M. H., Williams, S., Zheng, S. & General, A. (2015). Creating technology-based dance activities for people with Parkinson’s (PDF)International Journal of Health, Wellness and Society. 5/4: 107-121.

Woolhouse, M. H. & Lai, R. (2014). Traces across the body: Influence of music-dance synchrony on the observation of danceFrontiers in Human Neuroscience. 8/965: 1-14.