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December 13, 2019

December 13, 2019

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It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing

December 4, 2018

Lengthening our school year in 2019 means that we can include new programs. Last year, LEGO robotics was an optional after school club, in 2019 it will be included into our curriculum. Our students are getting a taste of the robotics program this December. Another course we will be including next year is Dance Equations. I wrote Beyond Movement, an eBook for my program called Dance Equations in 2011. I have recently have finished my second book which will be available off my website next year. Dance Equations is a program designed to teach mathematics through dance. This class will be separate from our performing arts classes and math program, but will enhance the students overall development in both areas.
If you have never thought about dance in terms of mathematics, you’d be just like me for most of my life. I loved rhythm and understood the mathematical element of music, but I never really thought about dance as an expression of mathematics, not until I had a chance to work with Learning Through the Arts. Preparing for my initial interview, I had to demonstrate how I could use dance to teach the elementary school Ontario Curriculum. Teaching dance was easy for me but not the math.


How would I teach mathematics with dance? I figured by applying musical theory and counts I would have an obvious place to start.


I was not keen on the idea of having to learn more about mathematics. As a student, I had found it boring, and like many students, I was not the type of kid that excelled in school, unless I felt the information to be meaningful or useful. I felt that most of the tasks I was required to complete in math class were trivial and that I would never use them again. I was at ballet school after all, and was going to be a dancer –I had the 5, 6, 7, 8 part down just fine.


I took a course with Trevor Brown, a retired school teacher who travels and teaches mathematics and philosophy around the globe. I was immediately taken with mathematics. I had always been into philosophy – I love delving into discussions about history, politics, spirituality and learning new concepts and ideas. I feel it’s my duty as a performer and choreographer to read as much as possible about these topics. A performance has to be rich with ideas and Trevor’s class was just that. Not only was it rich in philosophy, but he made numbers appear magical and learning enjoyable. I was instantly intrigued and this set me on the journey of exploring works by other professionals in the mathematical and scientific community who shared my new found love of mathematics and the arts.



I read many popular works such as Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and A Sense of the Mysterious by the American physicist and writer Alan Lightman. I was greatly inspired by his views – the way he describes the relationship between the artist and the scientist.


Of course! The creativity needed to envision particles years before they were even provable is a feat achieved by few minds. Similar radical discoveries were credited to artists, philosophers and scientists of exceptional ability who also possessed revolutionary creativity.


I can not write one more paragraph without mentioning other people who have inspired me. To name only two: Vituvius, a Roman author, architect, and civil engineer during the 1st century BC and Leonardo da Vinci, an Italian polymath, painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, artist, geologist, cartographer and botanist (how’s that for artistic achievements?!). Their diagrams and drawings are still explored and discussed today.


Soon I began to see how important art, especially dance, is throughout this narrative.


When I read the elementary school math curriculum, I noticed obvious connections with dance – translation, reflection, rotation and angles are continually used in dance. Every ballerina has the pattern 8, 8, 4, 4, 2, 2, 1, 1 ingrained in their minds – 8 tendus on the right, 8 on the left, etc. Tap dancing is certainly privy to mathematical patterns and rhythms. I had never before thought of these concepts or number patterns in terms of the required mathematical curriculum; however, mathematics is used in every dance form.



Then I thought, OK, how far could this really go? I started exploring dance sequences with elementary school students based on the Fibonacci Sequence, the Golden Mean, The Lucas Sequence, and yes, even digital code. And I didn’t stop there. I combined Mayan numbers with dance and even created my own number systems in dance. Dance code!


I was enjoying it so much and so were the kids. They were moving and creating while completing the required standardized Ontario Curriculum, which had previously kept them locked to their desks. The best part – we were able to add in cross-curricular themes. Their dances were based on numeric patterns. In one science unit, symmetrically-made snowflake formations were studied, while exploring qualities of movement based on their observation on liquids and solids. We had covered a plethora of concepts and unknowingly completed a dance performance for the school winter concert. Perfect!


This led me to create Dance Equations and write resources to help educators teach math through dance themselves, just not when they could afford an artist like me. When I returned to these same schools I was able to do much more than just introduce concepts. My skills were put to better use. I taught more complicated choreography and helped teachers feel confident about their own dance skills. (Something that should be taught at university; however, Dance Equations is based on creative movement so anyone can teach it, no matter what training they have had.)


I integrated these concepts into my choreography using the most relevant discoveries in physics. Bringing these ideas to motion, I was able to animate them for school performances. Thousands of children saw the production Dust…., a dance piece I am still using to introduce Dance Equations.




So why is dance so effective? What makes dance an exceptional tool for learning math? For starters, it enhances circulation and blood flow which in turn improves learning and stimulates the brain, helping children to remember information.


When working with children for whom English was a second language, I was able to determine instantly if they understood math concepts. Why ask a student to write a paper about oscillating when they can demonstrate it? You can see immediately the students who do not understand concepts like symmetry and then work with them right away.


But more importantly – and this is a very significant point – dance is human nature. Our bodies express everything through dance. Don’t believe me? Ask someone what joy looks like in movement and I bet they will open their arms, jump or spin. Our connection to music and vibrations causes shifts in our emotions. It was Einstein who said, “everything is a vibration”. In addition, dance is experienced in all cultures and deeply rooted in our origins. The arts have defined communities for generations, making them happier and healthier, thus creating higher functioning societies.


So as we explore our world and indulge in thought, we must do so in a way that is true to ourselves. When we celebrate our creativity, the greatest mysteries will be revealed. Why? It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, that “joie de vivre”, our human expression.


To learn more about Dance Equations, please visit our site at www.danceequations.com


Dance on!

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