First position – Dance and Maths

First position. Second position, third, fourth, fifth position. Wall one, two, three, four. Corner five, six, seven, eight.

Maths, believe it or not, is a large fundamental element underlying choreography and dance.
From the age of two years and for the most-part of my teenage years, I was, unbeknown to my senses, experiencing mathematical thinking during rehearsals and practising dance. My passion for ballet, Scottish dance, jazz and tap meant I was dancing for years without consciously recognising the patterns of maths evolving. Now, since starting the Discovering Mathematics module, I have come to realise maths is monumental in its involvement in dance.

I first realised this whilst sitting in a Discovering Mathematics workshop, where my astonishment was rapidly growing about the connections maths has, to everything. I decided at that moment, to reflect on this. This led me to write about the links between maths and tasks we complete day-to-day. However, in hindsight, I realise I did not actually write about a specific link I’ve made to maths.

Generally, maths is in dance if you think about counting beats, speed, shapes made with the body, angles, position, timing in music and patterns in the choreography itself. For example, in the dance studio, you will, most of the time, be surrounded by four walls and four corners. You must learn the number each wall is labelled as and understand the directions in which you must face. To face whichever numbered wall or corner, you must understand the mathematical concept that is ‘rotation’ by understanding clockwise and anti-clockwise. Mathematical vocabulary is widely used in dance, as well as in drama and theatre performances:

  • CS – centre stage
  • CSL – centre stage left
  • CSR – centre stage right
  • USL – upper stage left
  • USR – upper stage right
  • USC – upper stage centre
  • DSL – down stage left
  • DSR – down stage right
  • DSC – down stage centre

These are named ‘stage directions’ and usually your choreographer or director will instruct you in accordance to the space. To be able to dance in accordance to this, you must understand the maths vocabulary used, which, in this example, is direction.

Dance does not require mathematical problem-solving or making calculations. Instead, it is simpler. More fundamental. It requires you to think mathematically. What I mean by this is you need to be able to have a sense of pace, time and speed in dance routines and therefore counting beats is a mathematical strategy in practice. It is debatable that counting beats is a musical skill, however I argue that this is mathematical, as well as musical.

Additionally, symmetry is largely used in dance. Numbers of routines and choreographed sequences are designed around the principle of symmetry – this requires the understanding of what symmetry is, what symmetry looks like and how symmetry is created. The fundamental understanding of symmetry is key in dance. Symmetry is also in occurrence when a dancer is balancing, because keeping the body symmetrical or in other words equal, aids balancing.

Dancers make shapes with their bodies in dance. Specifically, in ballet, dancers create triangular shapes and angles with their legs and arms. An understanding of straight, parallel, horizontal, and curvilinear needs to be understand, as this is important in ballet. Dancers should understand the fundamental learning of angles – specifically, understanding 40, 90, 180 and 360 degrees, in order to accurately use their bodies in pirouettes and developpes.

In summary, I have discussed the links between maths and dance, a real passion of mine and as dance as always been a strong commitment of mine I was enthusiastic about sharing its interconnected relationship with fundamental maths.
In terms of pedagogy, I aspire to learn about teaching maths through dance in my professional practice. Dance is an expressive art which is not implemented sufficiently in schools and I definitely intend on it having more consistent and regular involvement in aiding children’s learning.

Any fellow dancers, I would love to hear your thoughts on dance and maths. 

1 thought on “First position – Dance and Maths

  1. Richard Holme

    I am not a dancer but I really liked this analysis. The link to angles is interesting – I wonder if this makes the dance more aesthetically pleasing to the audience? And how does this contrast with the idea of free style or more fluid dancing?
    This post certainly got me thinking!


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