Modern Dancers More Creative Than Others

modern dancer on stage
Modern dancers are more creative than ballet and jazz dancers, researchers have found. (Image credit: AYAKOVLEV.COM | Shutterstock)

In findings sure to incite controversy among dancers and their fans, like those from the TV shows "So You Think You Can Dance" or even "Dancing with the Stars," new research suggests that modern and contemporary dancers have the most creativity among dancers. Ballet dancers, the research finds, show the least creativity.

Scientists in Austria investigated the creativity levels of 60 professional dancers, evenly divided up among ballet, modern-contemporary and jazz-musical dance. They did so with verbal tests analyzing how well participants could think of synonyms to given words, creative uses of everyday objects, and consequences to utopian situations, as well as image-based tests, where dancers had to finish incomplete pictures. They also measured general mental ability in terms of word and sentence comparisons, analysis of geometrical figures and the like, as well as personality traits such as how outgoing or motivated they were.

The researchers found that modern-contemporary dancers showed the highest levels of verbal and image-based creativity, ballet dancers the least, and jazz-musical dancers ranking in the middle. When it came to general mental ability, modern-contemporary and jazz-musical dancers tested significantly higher than ballet dancers, and when it came to personality, modern-contemporary dancers were less conscientious, more open to experiences, and tested higher in psychoticism — that is, in being aggressive, cold, egocentric, impersonal, antisocial or impulsive — than the other two groups.

The scientists inferred that modern-contemporary dancers may test more highly in creativity because they are often required to improvise or perform more freely on stage, while ballet dancers (and to a lesser extent, jazz-musical dancers) are more bound to choreographies. Higher levels of openness to experiences and psychoticism are often linked with creativity, they added. [Read: Fine Line Between Creativity & Insanity]

"Highly creative people can be characterized by a stable set of personality characteristics, which may be considered as important ingredients in the acquisition or actualization of exceptional creative potential," researcher Andreas Fink, a psychologist and neuroscientist at the University of Graz in Austria, told LiveScience.

The researchers cautioned that looked at relatively small numbers of dancers. Fink also stressed these findings do not allow for any conclusions with respect to the nature versus nurture debate — as to whether of certain types of people drawn to specific types of dance, or certain types of dance bringing out or stifling creativity in dancers — since no interpretations of cause and effect can be drawn from the data.

The scientists detailed their findings online July 20 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

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Charles Q. Choi
Live Science Contributor
Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for Live Science and He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica.