Studying Ballet Dancers Could Help Us Treat Stroke Victims—and Build Better Robots
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.
Just hearing the word "improvisation" is enough to make some ballet dancers shake in their pointe shoes. But for Chantelle Pianetta, it's a practice she relishes. Depending on the weekend, you might find her gracing Bay Area stages as a principal with Menlowe Ballet or sweeping in awards at West Coast swing competitions.
She specializes in Jack and Jill events, which involve improvised swing dancing with an unexpected partner in front of a panel of judges. (Check her out in action below.) While sustaining her ballet career, over the past four years Pianetta has quickly risen from novice to champion level on the WCS international competition circuit.
Sean Dorsey was always going to be an activist. Growing up in a politically engaged, progressive family in Vancouver, British Columbia, "it was my heart's desire to create change in the world," he says. Far less certain was his future as a dancer.
Like many dancers, Dorsey fell in love with movement as a toddler. However, he didn't identify strongly with any particular gender growing up. Dorsey, who now identifies as trans, says, "I didn't see a single person like me anywhere in the modern dance world." The lack of trans role models and teachers, let alone all-gender studio facilities where he could feel safe and welcome, "meant that even in my wildest dreams, there was no room for that possibility."
It's hour three of an intense rehearsal, you're feeling mentally foggy and exhausted, and your stomach hurts. Did you know the culprit could be something as simple as dehydration?
Proper hydration helps maintain physical and mental function while you're dancing, and keeps your energy levels high. But with so many products on the market promising to help you rehydrate more effectively, how do you know when it's time to reach for more than water?