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.

The Conversation
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Ballet Nacional of Cuba just named Valdés deputy artistic director, which means she will immediately assume the daily responsibilities of running the company. Alonso, 98, will retain the title of general director, but in practice, Valdés will be the one making all the artistic decisions.

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Photo by Ahmad Odeh/Unsplash

I'm terrified of performing choreography that changes directions. I messed up last year when the stage lights caused me to become disoriented. What can I do to prevent this from happening again? I can perform the combination just fine in the studio with the mirror.

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When Arantxa Ochoa took over as MCB School's director of faculty and curriculum two years ago, she decided to add a second part to the summer intensive: five weeks focused on technique would be followed by a new two-week choreography session. The technique intensive is not a requirement, but students audition for both at the same time and many attend the two back-to-back.

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On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.

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Health & Body
Anika Huizinga via Unsplash

As winter sets in, your muscles may feel tighter than they did in warmer weather. You're not imagining it: Cold weather can cause muscles to lose heat and contract, resulting in a more limited range of motion and muscle soreness or stiffness.

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A newly launched initiative hopes to change the face of ballet, both onstage and behind the scenes. Called "The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet," the three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a partnership between Dance Theatre of Harlem, the International Association of Blacks in Dance and Dance/USA.

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From the outside, it seemed like the worst of New York City Ballet's problems were behind them last winter, when ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired amid accusations of abuse and sexual harassment, and an internal investigation did not substantiate those claims.

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Popular

If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Dance Magazine, now's your chance to find out. Dance Magazine is seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about dance and journalism.

Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)

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News
Credits with photos below.

For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.

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Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:

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Some people take this profession as just a chapter of their life. They feel like dance is a job—a fun job, but a job. Other people live their life through dance. I never considered being a ballerina a profession. It's a lifestyle.

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Dance & Science
Amar Odeh/Unsplash

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Photo credits, clockwise from bottom left: Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet; Jayme Thornton; Jochen Viehoff, Courtesy Stephanie Troyak; Karolina Kuras, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Kim Kenney, Courtesy Atlanta Ballet; Jim Lafferty; Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet; Scott Shaw, Courtesy Shamar Wayne Watt

What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.

Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.

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Photos via Polunin's Instagram

If you follow Sergei Polunin on Instagram, you've probably noticed that lately something has been...off.

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Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,

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Umi Akiyoshi Photography, Courtesy Sidra Bell Dance New York

Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."

Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.

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Courtesy Birmingham Royal Ballet

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Advice for Dancers
When you spend most of your day at the theater, it's challenging to find time to date. Photo by rawpixel/Unsplash.

My personal life has taken a nosedive since I broke up with my boyfriend. He's in the same show and is now dating one of my colleagues. It's heartbreaking to see them together, and I'm determined never to date a fellow dancer again. But it's challenging to find someone outside, as I practically live in the theater. Do you have any advice?

—Loveless, New York, NY

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The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.

Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.

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It includes this familiar face! (Erin Baiano)

Something's coming, I don't know when
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Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.

Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.

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