Deep inside the white matter of the cerebral cortex, atop the brain stem, and astride the thalamus, a collection of interconnected regions form the basal ganglia. What they have in common is that, along with the cerebellum, they modify movement from moment to moment---from a dancer's somatically memorized steps, to the wild involuntary articulations caused by Huntington's chorea, to the rigidity and tremors of a Parkinson's disease sufferer.

The 'Sorcerer,' found in the Paleolithic cave at Trois-Frères, is identified as a therianthropic shaman/dancer. With reindeer antlers, two eyes bulge over a thin nose. He has paws for hands, raised in the air like a kangaroo's. A beard and mask cover his mouth. At his other end, a horse's tail waves above a feline phallus, while hind legs suggest a cakewalk dance.

The basal ganglia are commonly identified by clinicians as the candate and putamen (which together with the nucleus accumbens are called the striatum), and the globus pallidus. Being that the subthalamus and substrantia nigra have well-defined interconnections with either the pallidum or the striatum, they are usually included. Topological extensions lead to such modules as the claustrum and amygdala, but to include these in basal ganglia nomenclature opens the door to too many other structures not directly involved in psychomotor behavior.

The Hindu god Shiva, Shatterer of Worlds, dances, and reality dissolves, clearing ground for further visions of civilization. He is portrayed as having four hands. In his braided, bejeweled hair is a cobra, a skull, and a mermaid that represents the Ganges River. There is also the crescent moon, and a wreath of Cassia leaves. From his right ear hangs a man's earring, with a woman's in the left. Besides being adorned with various jewelry, the god's dress consists of tight breeches, a scarf, and a sacred thread. In one of his right hands he holds a drum; the other hand is uplifted in the "Do Not Fear" mudra. One of Shiva's left hands holds fire, the other points down to the dwarf/demon Muyalka, while the left foot is raised in midst of his dance.

Balancing the frontal lobes' abilities in the realm of abstract, creative thinking, the basal ganglia mediate rule-guided behavior, integrating implicit encoding with the frontal cortex's explicit processing, allowing us to reject, if necessary, motivations that are not useful to the current situation.

In more modern times, the great Russian ballet dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, whom Parisians called le dieu de le dance, the god of dance, is the Western archetype of sequential upward mobility, rising expectations, and the eternally youthful Peter Pan. He also represents the self-indulgent in-sanity of our civilization. In contrast to Nijinsky is the Japanese aesthetic of Butoh, innovative "dance that crawls toward the bowels of the earth,"1 while exploring "the dark feminine principle, subconscious spontaneous life."2 The direction of the dance expresses where a culture searches for its gods. In the West, it is primarily upward; one is "lifted up," to the Father. In the East, it is primarily downward, as if planting seeds in Mother Earth. 


(1) Tatsumi Hijikata. Piercing The Mask. Aka Productions (Video) n.d.
(2) S.H. Fraleigh, Dancing Into Darkness. Pittsburgh, PA., 1999. p.58.