Dance & Science

This Program Is Turning Teen Girls Into Coders—By Teaching Them Dance

The confidence students learn through dance can be transferred to many other fields. Photo by Damon Plant, courtesy STEM From Dance

As an audience cheers, three teenage girls cross the stage in a line, to the high-energy beat of The Chainsmokers' "Don't Let Me Down." They're dressed in head-to-toe black, but each of their shirts is decorated with bright bulbs, flashing and blinking in various colors as they move.

The performance is a product of STEM From Dance, a New York City-based nonprofit founded by Yamilee Toussaint—an MIT grad who's been dancing since age 5. The program targets middle and high school girls of color, who are vastly underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, and might not otherwise see STEM as an option or be encouraged to try it.


As a mechanical engineering student, Toussaint was well aware of the lack of women of color in her own MIT class. The idea of bridging the worlds of STEM and dance came after graduation, when she was teaching algebra at a high school in Brooklyn. She noticed her students struggling with the subject, sometimes hesitating to even try to solve a problem, because they didn't believe they could do it.

"The way that we view our own success is a large determinant of whether or not we thrive," Toussaint says. "That to me is a really important barrier to address—how do students see themselves as somebody who can be good in math and science, or go on to become an engineer? It begins with that perception that we have of ourselves."

Toussaint realized that, in her own case, dance had helped give her the confidence she needed, especially the camaraderie she got from her student dance group at MIT.

"That's what got me thinking: Is there a way dance can be used to encourage girls of color to pursue an education or career in STEM?" she says. "We want to expose them to STEM in a way that is relevant to who they are, where they come from. If you look at that community, dance is often a way that we celebrate and connect and learn."

STEM dance "Dance is often a way that we celebrate and connect and learn," says Yamilee Toussaint. Photo by Damon Plant, courtesy STEM From Dance.

Most students are initially attracted to the "dance" component of STEM From Dance. But the program integrates the two disciplines seamlessly, asking students to think about the ways STEM is used in a performance space. They choreograph their own dances, while learning how to incorporate technical components, from light-up costumes to onstage projections.

Movement is also used to teach certain STEM concepts, drawing on the students' penchant for kinesthetic learning. For instance, the concept of loops in coding: "It's a sort of code that's repeated over and over again, and a similar concept in dance is a canon," says Toussaint. So, when teaching loops, they'll have students practice a canon, repeating a set of movements across the group.

Since its 2011 start, the program has worked with about 400 students in 25 schools across New York City. This month, they'll also launch Girls Rise Up, a two-week summer camp.

The dancers apply scientific principles to choreography. Photo by Damon Plant, courtesy STEM From Dance.

While Toussaint finds that about 75% of the students join her program because they like to dance, she also notes that 75% of those students are trying coding for the first time. They get to do something they already enjoy, while trying something new in the process.

"I think it shows the potential we have for tapping into a new generation of students to be our future scientists and engineers," she says. And dance is the way in.

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Style & Beauty
Photo by Rachel Papo

Given that almost every ballet performance requires your hair to be in a bun, it can be tricky to master Romeo and Juliet's Italian Renaissance hairstyles. Not for ABT wig and makeup supervisor Rena Most and wig and makeup assistant Jill Haley. The duo is responsible for all three hairstyles Juliet wears onstage, following the exact looks used in the company premiere of the Sir Kenneth MacMillan ballet in 1985. Check out Most and Haley in action, below, and keep scrolling for the step-by-step breakdown.

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Rant & Rave
Mandy Moore at the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards, during which she took home her first Emmy. Photo courtesy Inline/AP

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Editors’ List: The Goods
Via @joandjax on Instagram

Summertime...and the dressing is eeeeeeeeeeasy. When you're heading straight from the dance studio to the pool or beach, you don't want to be messing around with complicated cover-ups. That's where these 5 MVPs of the romper room come in, bringing their breezy style to your pre-class, post-rehearsal, and everything-in-between looks. Oh, and three out of the five are on sale right now. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and romper-ound! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

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It's easy to see why: Tatro dances with a maturity beyond her years—her performance quality has the kind of nuance that usually only comes from years of experience. She is just as skilled at whipping out high extensions and deep pliés as she is at giving each step its own flavor.

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Rant & Rave
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The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."

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Editors’ List: The Goods

Planning to spend the majority of your summer sweating it out in the studio? Don't worry, you're not alone. And while you're definitely going to want to save the warmups for the winter, you can still accessorize your studio look without adding bulk, thanks to the always-in-style ballet skirt. From bright florals to washed out pastels and wild prints, we rounded up our favorite short (and a few long!) ballet skirts for summer.

AinslieWear Limoncello Wrap Skirt

via AinslieWear

If you can't spend your summer in the Mediterranean under actual lemon trees, this skirt is a solid backup. Plus, it gives us serious Beyonce "Lemonade" vibes, which will help you feel more fierce and less sweaty-mess in class (hopefully).
ainsliewear.com, $50

Dance Training
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A few months ago, your teacher snapped at you for smiling too much. Today, you're keeping your expression neutral when your teacher abruptly cuts the music and walks over to you, pretending to knock on your forehead. "Hello? Is anyone in there? Your face is always blank." Your classmates look just as frozen as you feel, their eyes darting back and forth between you and your teacher until the music resumes and class goes on.

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Dance Training
Krista DeNio (top) says that women should take an integrated, full-body approach to lifting. Photo by Jun Akiyama, courtesy DeNio

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President Obama awarding Bill T. Jones the National Medal of Arts. Photo by Pete Souza via Obama White House Archives

Every year since 1985, the President of the United States has recognized our country's greatest artists with the National Medal of Arts. Many dancers and choreographers—from Martha Graham to Tommy Tune to Edward Villella—have received the award.

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Since taking office a year and a half ago, President Trump has held no dance performances at the White House, and aside from the military band, no performances whatsoever. He has frequently disparaged artists, from Meryl Streep to the cast of Hamilton. The fate of the National Endowment for the Arts has also come into question. If the President does indeed continue with the award, we wonder how his attitude toward artists will affect who is chosen—and whether artists will even accept the honor. (Carmen de Lavallade and several other Kennedy Center honorees skipped the White House reception last year to boycott the President.)

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Dance Training
Giphy

Turnout can be a tricky thing. Perfect 180 degrees can make your lines look gorgeous, but gripping, forcing and twisting to get it there can lead to injuries down the road.

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Dance Training
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News
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