Leading Through the Arts: A Report From a Global Symposium on Arts for Brain Health

Written by Glenna Batson, Somatics teacher for the dance program at Peabody Institute.

“Movement is the language of the brain.” – Moshe Feldenkrais

What is embodiment? This question loomed in the foreground of a recent symposium devoted to the role of arts leadership in reducing the impact of dementia. Hosted by the Global Brain Health Institute, Trinity College Dublin, the symposium was envisioned by Dr. Ieva Petkutė, director of Arthewe, an Erasmus+ funded project (Lithuania) for dementia prevention and care.

In late April, artists, scientists, medical practitioners, and scholars from across the European Union convened in Dublin for four days of knowledge exchange. The gathering focused on sharing multiple arts research methods and practices each designed to unearth ways for arts leaders to boost agency, remove access barriers, and reduce the negative impact of cognitive decline at any age and stage.

I was thrilled to be invited to present. I have devoted my career to working at the intersection of the movement arts functional, social, therapeutic, and performative. My aim always has been to promote consilience among arts-science researchers and across quality-of-life domains.

Brain health calls for a holistic perspective, one that embraces the human lifespan as well as our evolutionary endowment what we share with the animal and plant kingdoms. Embodiment is sentience, our ability to feel, sense and move in essence, the biological potential and capacity to ‘make sense’ (literally and figuratively) of the world.

Figure 1


At once, embodiment is a noun (a yet-to-be-defined ‘sense’), as well as a verb (a way of knowing and a means of bodily expression). Cultural theorist Erin Manning defines embodiment as ‘being in relation,’ a phrase suggestive of the resonant ease with which we form relationships with all things matter and material.

Figure 2

At the event, I collaborated in teaching a workshop focused on dance and the somatic movement arts: Embodied-driven pedagogy: exploring leadership through dance. The take-home message? Movement is not something we ‘do’… it is who we are the fundamental locus of body-mind ownership and agency (Figure 2).

A panel followed: Cultivating leadership through artistic and embodied methodologies. Here, we engaged the audience in a variety of experiential movement activities (Figure 3), at one point, inviting them to use their smartphone QR codes to generate a word cloud graphic for embodiment (Figure 1).

We then tackled the concept of non-embodiment: Participants were asked to explain to a partner what non-embodiment is by only using bodily gesture no words.  It drove home the point: A threat (or actual loss) to any part of the whole results in a disconnect in communication between self and others. Any loss puts a damper on our natural ability to relate. Such compromise translates into a spectrum of diagnoses: a loss of feeling sense (anesthesia), of emotion (apathy and anhedonia) and of cognitive faculties (brain fog to dementia).

Figure 3

So why arts leadership? As human beings, we are a work-in-progress. We need the help of ‘wellness keepers’, of curators (curation, from the Latin, ‘cura,’ meaning, ‘to care for’). Arts leaders can act as these guardians of a precious resource: sentient endowment that is shared among all members of our biological family. To this end, arts leaders hold critical roles in governing societal wellness  as educators, researchers, mentors, facilitators, scouts, and advocates.

Above all, arts leaders inspire: We are the muses that enable people to access their own kin-aesthetic beauty and potential. In the end, arts are a poiesis a bringing forth (‘birthing’) of something that was not there before.

Figure 1: World cloud created by participants using Mentimeter interactive software

Figure 2 / Lead image: Workshop, embodied-driven pedagogy-exploring leadership through dance, led by balloons, with facilitators, Magda Kaczmarska, Aline Haas and Glenna Batson

Figure 3: Panel participants engage in a fingertip touch experience, led by Mark Rietima


I wish to thank the following for their vision and creativity in a stunning week of exchange: Arts researcher and host, Ieva Petkutė of the  National Association of Dementia Lithuania, secondly, to all the directors, Atlantic fellows and staff of the Global Brain Health Institute, and to my colleagues, dancers and Atlantic Fellows Magda Kaczmarska and Dr. Aline Haas, somatic psychotherapist Mark Rietima, and Atlantic fellow and physical therapist, Dr. Kai Kennedy, DPT.


Manning, E. The being of relation. E-flux journal, Issue #135. https://www.e-flux.com/journal/135/529855/the-being-of-relation/

Kontos, P, Grigorovich, A. ‘Dancing with dementia: citizenship, embodiment and everyday life in the context of long-term care’, In, Katz, S., et al. (eds.), Ageing in Everyday Life: Materialities and Embodiments. University of Chicago Press, 2018, pp. 163-180.

Nascimento, MM. Dance, aging, and neuroplasticity: an integrative review. 2021 Aug 27(4):372-381. doi: 10.1080/13554794.2021.1966047.

Nicholson A, editor. Brain Health Across the Life Span: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2020 Mar 31. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; April 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556452/?report=printable

Wu VX, et al. The effect of dance interventions on cognition, neuroplasticity, physical function, depression, and quality of life in older adults with mild cognitive impairements: a systematic review and meta-analysis.  International Journal of Nursing Studies, 2021 Oct; 122:104025. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2021.104025.

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