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Teaching Physics Through Dance

Teaching physics through dance may seem an unlikely duo. But if you’ve ever tripped the light fantastic, you’ve experienced physics in action. And this is what makes dance the ideal vehicle for studying the laws of motion. 

A standard physics class can be sleep-inducing for those who learn from a more hands-on approach. So arts integrated high schools have taken to engaging students with “lab” work which is comprised of dance.

But that’s just the beginning. They also spend hours on computers studying and analyzing the data they get in said “lab.” The whole experience enables their understanding of the laws of motion while giving them a glimpse of the whole scientific process.

A Brief History of Framing Dance as a Science

To be clear, arts-integrated schools aren’t the first to apply a scientific understanding to dance. Folks started studying movement through dance in the early 17th century in France. 

During this time, ballet was flourishing. There was rigorous training and the systemic study of this art form challenged the range of motion in the dancers. As such, those with natural abilities and talent constantly raised the technical bar with new ways of jumping and turning. (Similar to seeing how figure skating advances with each new Olympics.) 

For example, a dancer in the late 18th century challenged the classical arm position used in a pirouette (spinning on one foot in a circle). Rather than creating an open circle as was dictated by the traditional practice, he tightened that circle which reduced his rotational inertia. This led to the ability to perform multiple pirouettes. 

This, of course, became all the rage. Maintaining the classical shape was discarded in exchange for being able to perform many pirouettes. This was soon part of the teaching regimen. And by the 20th century, the scientific study of movement morphed into its own discipline called kinesiology. 

The Physics Behind the Illusions

Kinesiology, as a discipline, has a rather anatomical and physiological starting point. Arts educators take a more fundamental approach to teaching physics through dance though. Especially given that dance sometimes appears to defy physics. 

In the late 1980s, a physicist at a college in Pennsylvania noticed that a dancer’s motion during a leap doesn’t follow a parabola. Applying the laws of physics to this mystery, he realized that the dancer’s center of gravity changes during the jump. The head and torso don’t carve out a parabola because the arms and legs are the highest locations in the middle of the leap. This gives the illusion that a dancer is briefly traveling horizontally. 

There is another airborne movement where the leg in the back is brought forward into alignment with the leading leg. When this happens, the leg from behind steals some of the forward momentum. As the dancer comes back to the floor, the parabolic shape of the leap appears to be cut off abruptly. 

In the decades that followed, many physicists have investigated and analyzed the illusion of dance utilizing the basic principles of mechanics.

Teaching Physics Through Dance

A simple example of teaching physics through dance could involve having groups of students perform vertical jumps both with and without arm motion. From there, the groups might compare the forces and heights they measure and then give a brief talk.

At the end of the day, students learn how to devise experiments, record data, and analyze the results to give a scientific presentation. At the same time, they’re introduced to the craft of simple choreography so the artistic process is also explored. 

By making each student an object, educators can personalize the physics of motion. Meanwhile, students gain the scientific tools to measure and understand the mechanics of moving under the influence of gravity. Eventually, they can grasp the physical principles that govern their motion.

What’s more, students who hope to move onto a professional career gain a deeper understanding of how physics can be used to improve and maximize their movements. 

It’s kind of like having a secret weapon. 

Does Your Creative Child Struggle to Learn?

Conventional education doesn’t work for every student. And creative-minded children are especially prone to not thrive in an environment that focuses primarily on STEM subjects and testing.

If that sounds like your child, it’s time to consider the benefits of an arts-integrated education. Whether our students are learning physics through dance, grasping math through music, or reliving history through theater, they’re getting an education that works for them.

Does this sound like a good fit for your child? If so, contact us today to take a tour of our school. You won’t be disappointed.  


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