Studying Ballet Dancers Could Help Us Treat Stroke Victims—and Build Better Robots

Getty Images

Dagmar Sternad is a professor of biology, physics, and electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University. She's also a bit of a dance obsessive. And her innovative work with ballet dancers could have far-ranging implications for the worlds of both medicine and robotics.


A longtime dance lover, Sternad has been been fascinated by the science behind dancers' movements for years. "How do we control our limbs...and how does our brain control our body?" she asks in a new video documenting her studies. "How do we learn motor skills to even approach such exquisite skill as these dancers have?"

Starting with those questions, she began working with dance artists—including members of Boston Ballet—to discover the scientific roots of human balance and coordination. But over the years, she realized that her research could have broader applications, like helping stroke victims relearn and recover skills they might have lost. And, increasingly, she's been investigating her work's connection to robotics.

"There's still a lot to be learned about what it takes to control a multi-link system to get close to what humans can do," she says in the video. "So one potential contribution my work can make is to share some of the insights we've gained on human motor control to robotic control….[and help] humans and robots work together successfully side by side and hand in hand."

Check out the video below (come for the science, stay for the beautiful footage of Boston Ballet's Patrick Yocum and Rachele Buriassi). You can learn more about Sternad's work here.

In Memoriam
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Rauf "RubberlLegz" Yasit and Parvaneh Scharafali. Photo by Mohamed Sadek, courtesy The Shed

William Forsythe is bringing his multi-faceted genius to New York City in stripped down form. His "Quiet Evening of Dance," a mix of new and recycled work now at The Shed until October 25, is co-commissioned with Sadler's Wells in London (and a slew of European presenters).

As always, Forsythe's choreography is a layered experience, both kinetic and intellectual. This North American premiere prompted many thoughts, which I whittled down to seven.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Courtesy NBC

"Law & Order: SVU" has dominated the crime show genre for 21 seasons with its famous "ripped from the headlines" strategy of taking plot inspiration from real-life crimes.

So viewers would be forgiven for assuming that the new storyline following the son of Mariska Hargitay's character into dance class originated in the news cycle. After all, the mainstream media widely covered the reaction to Lara Spencer's faux pas on "Good Morning America" in August, when she made fun of Prince George for taking ballet class.

But it turns out, the storyline was actually the idea of the 9-year-old actor, Ryan Buggle, who plays Hargitay's son. And he came up with it before Spencer ever giggled at the word ballet.

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Getty Images

As a dietitian specializing in dance nutrition, the most common DM flooding my inbox is "How can I drop pounds (specifically from body fat) and gain muscle?"

The short answer? Not happening.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox