Dancing with aphantasia


Right, in half an hour I’m off to the Crows Feet Dance Collective dress rehearsal for our new show, Hakari. And because I finally grasp the fact that I have Aphantasia, I will be dancing with some new insights into how I learn the necessary choreography compared with how others learn.

At last I understand why I’m the one who needs the following aids to learning.

  • I take videos of each dance for learning purposes
  • I keep a notebook
  • I make little diagrams of our placement on the floor at the start of each movement
  • I create little stories to remember the order of things (don’t ask — they are crazy)
  • I give labels to movements or poses (tai chi, swish, tiptoes, Peter Pan, tootsies, windmill, Krishna and so forth)
  • I silently recite little mantras like 1, 2, skippity hop.

When I rehearse a dance in my head, I feel it in my body.

And all this is not because at 76 I’m the oldest dancer on the floor. It’s because I cannot picture the dance in my mind’s eye.  I can feel with my mind’s body. And I can hear the accompanying music in my mind’s ear. But I cannot see it with my non-existent mind’s eye.

Clever little brain, ay? Who else do you know with this fun condition?

Crows Feet Dance Collective on Facebook



36 thoughts on “Dancing with aphantasia

  1. Bernadette says:

    I never heard of aphantasia. Recently I asked a neurologist a question about why I perceive something expecting a concrete answer and he said, “the brain is a mysterious thing”. Oh well, at least you have recognized the problem and have developed a way around it,

  2. You explain Aphantasia so thoroughly, but I am still unable to understand it well. It’s one of those things that you have to experience to grasp. I think it is not unlike the way the brain works for ADHD people, who I used to teach. Good for you for just going out there and making it work—I know it doesn’t stop you from being successful!

    1. I don’t understand it myself, quite! I hope to learn more through the forum. Interesting about ADHD similarities. I see spectrum after spectrum overlapping.

  3. Does anyone have complete mental images, I wonder? I get the feeling it’s moving from one step to another by association, much as you describe in your interesting account. Or have I got the wrong picture?

    1. Sounds like you might have aphantasia. Quiz your friends about it.

      1. Will do, cheers. Will also follow your blog.

      2. Thanks, Dave. Keep me posted!

    2. Robyn Haynes says:

      Yes, me too, a step at a time by association. Is it possible we tend to be reassured as soon as something is labelled? I think this is a vanity, a furphy.

      1. I am thrilled to be labeled in this case. The label comes with knowledge! At last I understand many oddities in myself. But I still am exactly the same person who I was before: I am Rachel, vain or not 🙂

      2. Robyn Haynes says:

        By all means celebrate you, Rachel! I’m glad you’re not one to let it change the way you see yourself. Nor let the label excuse you for not being the best you can be. The thing is with research findings as I’m sure you’re well aware, is they hold until something more convincing replaces them. Today’s findings, next week’s fish and chip paper. I admire your chutzpah. Not everyone is as resilient as you. If I seem a little cynical it’s because I have seen the damage labelling can wreak.

      3. I understand exactly what you mean. And am suddenly even more conscious of that damage. I think I won’t burble on here but will blog my thoughts, once they evolve a little more. Thank you for prompting another round of activity in my (non visual) brain.

      4. Robyn Haynes says:

        Always so interesting to read your posts.

      5. What’s a furphy, Robyn? A frivolous decoration?

      6. Robyn Haynes says:

        Sorry. A weird expression I use to express a dubious truth which can deceive. E.g. labels most often have agendas attached, intended or not.

      7. Robyn Haynes says:

        Gosh Rachel, I don’t in any way mean to imply that having a name for something you perceive as different about yourself is a vanity. It was human vanity I was referring to. Namely, by giving something a label, we as a society may imagine we have total understanding and control over it. Hope that is clearer?

      8. I did understand that so dont worry! And your point is indeed valid. I may post about the sudden insights that this label has given me into the infinite variations in the way our brains function. We are all unique. But the gulf between my everyday thinking and my friend’s astonished me. That is huge for me, a revelation. And leads to other insights.

      9. Robyn Haynes says:

        We are each ‘foreign countries’ where they do things differently. Any insight into ‘self’ is helpful for sure. Thanks for not misunderstanding my meaning.

      10. My point was that I do get mental images but they are fleeting. I can visualise complex series of movements with effort. Playing guitar & singing is a good example of one thing leading to another. I don’t have an overview and it’s easy to become disoriented, especially when performing in public, which is why I like the challenge. I’m sure some people have more severe problems, however.

      11. Sounds like fun! The key phrase in your comment ( for me) is “which is why I like the challenge.”

      12. I took the short test on the link provided in another comment – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-34039054 – and ticked ‘vague and indistinct’ for all suggestions. But I’ve never found this a problem. I’ve always said I’d rather go blind than deaf …

      13. A useful test. (I draw a total blank but it’s not a disability, just a quirk, remember!)

  4. toutparmoi says:

    I wonder if there’s a continuum here? With people who usually l those with next to

    1. I await the scientific research results with interest. I would guess spectrums and continua abound.

      1. toutparmoi says:

        Yes – there is. I just asked Aunty Google, and found this. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-34039054

      2. Thanks. Not surprising but useful illustrations.

    2. toutparmoi says:

      Half my comment seems to have got lost along the way! It was: I wonder if there’s a continuum here? With people who usually live with movies or slide shows running in their heads at one end, and those with next to none at the other?

      1. And thats exactly what ww found in that BBC article.

      2. toutparmoi says:

        The Beeb aint what it used to be, but it did add a new word to my vocab “hyperphantasia”.

  5. Val says:

    How interesting to read this post. I had incredibly good visualizing abilities – including a nearly-complete photographic memory – until I suffered the side-effects of a (prescribed) drug about twenty years ago and completely lost my visual imagination, my ability to internally-visualise images and also my ability to visually dream. I also lost about 75% or more of my vocabulary, spelling and ability to recall specific words, mostly because the way I would remember how to spell a word was to visualise it. (It’s like seeing the word as text projected in front of you.) As someone who had had these abilities, it was devastating to lose them. Over the years, since then, quite a lot of it has returned but by no means all. So I know exactly what you mean (though I didn’t know it had a name!)

    It’s perfectly fine to use the techniques you’ve learnt or discovered, to remember, understand and process your experiences. Any dance or physical exercise needs to be learnt by the body first and your body is very good at that.

    1. Wow, that must have been exceedingly tough for you and your brain! You got a double whammy after years of neurotypical thinking, whereas I never missed what I never had, until now. Lately I’m re-examining all sorts of my mental behaviours. I think aphantasia makes revision and remembering much more difficult, but not the act of reading, for which we use our actual eyes. Now I’m wondering … can you think of any ways in which you benefited from this time without mental words or pictures?

      1. Val says:

        I don’t think I benefited, particularly, from the lack of words but I suspect that the loss of visual imagery made me find other ways of reaching my own creativity (I was an artist most of my life. I’ve since turned toward crafts – possibly because my tactile sense is good.)

        By the way, I noted that with Aphantasia there is a problem with face-recognition. I have had this all my life.

  6. I’m glad to hear that your creativity found a new outlet.

  7. alison01326 says:

    I also went through life not realising that others could see things in their mind’s eye and I couldn’t. I do the notebook, draw a map of starting positions and chant things like 1, 2, 3 hop in my head. Now by the magic of technology there are videos too but I actually prefer the old way. Fortunately I don’t do much organised dancing (ie folk dancing, in my case) that I haven’t done before and can vaguely remember what I need to do provided that the dance tune is the same one I know.

    1. You understand! Of course It is sobering to see young people get the choreography in a flash but hey, we have other qualities.

  8. Alexis Mosser says:

    Hi Rachel. Your post makes me feel so much better about why choreography is my nemesis. I social dance (swing) and I will do anything to get out of choreographed dancing…

    1. Carry on doing exactly what you like! I have a friend who feels the same. 50 years ago she danced in the Folies Bergeres — but she said that was super simple, and mostly in a line!

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