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Hardwired for Song and Dance

The Neurobiology of Language and Movement

6:00 PM Reception
6:30 – 7:30 PM Lecture

Caspary Auditorium
The Rockefeller University
1230 York Avenue at East 66th Street
New York, NY 10065


Erich D. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Erich D. Jarvis, Ph.D.

Professor, Laboratory of Neurogenetics of Language
The Rockefeller University
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Constantina Theofanopoulou, Ph.D.

Constantina Theofanopoulou, Ph.D.

Associate Research Professor
Hunter College, City University of New York


Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D.

President and Carson Family Professor
Laboratory of Human Genetics and Genomics
The Rockefeller University

Dancing and singing are perhaps the most ancient forms of human expression. For Erich Jarvis, a neuroscientist who trained professionally in ballet, it was not entirely surprising to discover that neural circuits enabling us to learn movements are in close proximity to parts of the brain essential to speech. Dr. Jarvis studies songbirds and other animals to identify genes and brain centers that underlie vocal learning. His work is helping to explain how the human brain evolved to produce complex spoken language.

Drawing on the latest findings from many convergent lines of research, Dr. Jarvis and fellow investigator Constantina Theofanopoulou will provide a fascinating look into the genes-to-neurons choreography that connects with motor systems to enable us to sing and dance. They will also discuss movement and speech disorders that stem from disruptions in these neural pathways, as well as the roles that music and dance can play in the treatment of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and autism.

Born and raised in New York City, Erich Jarvis discovered his passion for dance early in life. He attended the renowned High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan and was invited to audition for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, but ultimately decided to pursue a degree in science and mathematics at Hunter College. He received a Ph.D. from The Rockefeller University in 1995, joined the faculty of Duke University in 1998, and was named an HHMI investigator in 2008. Dr. Jarvis returned to Rockefeller as a professor and head of lab in 2016. He received an NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award in 2019.

Dr. Constantina Theofanopoulou is interested in the neurobiology of complex human behaviors such as speech and dance. She has performed professionally as a flamenco dancer and in 2012 was a Spanish Dance Society first prize awardee. The recipient of a doctorate from the University of Barcelona, she has conducted research at Duke University and The Rockefeller University. In 2021, Dr. Theofanopoulou was named a fellow of the Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University. She joined Hunter College, CUNY, as an associate research professor in 2022, and she is a visiting associate professor at Rockefeller.