Saturday, November 27, 2010

My Math Alphabet: D is for Dance

D is for Dance

People say music and math are closely related, but deep down, I don't really get it. I'm not so good with music. Let's say I'm a slow learner. I can sing pretty well, if it's a song I've sung lots and lots of times. I can play the penny whistle well enough to get compliments now and again. (Penny whistle is probably the easiest instrument there is.) I tried to learn guitar for years, and was always mediocre (at best). I was terrible at the timing.

Then there's dance. I love both music and dance, but I'm slow at both. My favorite sort of dance is contra dance. If you go to a contra dance, you're welcomed in, and taught how to do it. You don't have to bring a partner, and no one scowls when you mess up (well, almost no one). Good thing folks there are patient, because ... I'm a very slow learner.

So I never would have thought, on my own, about looking at the connections between math and music or dance. But I'd seen a number of questions about this on the Living Math (Yahoo group) and Natural Math (Google group) lists, so when Malke Rosenfeld emailed me about her Math In Your Feet program, I paid attention.

I sent a message to both those lists, with a link to her blog, and figured she'd help a few people with their questions.

But when I read her blog, I got excited myself. It turns out she works in public schools, and is trying to help the schools see how important movement is for kids' brain function. Yes! (My son, who never has to sit at a desk, would wither if he were stuck sitting in a classroom for hours on end.) She also addresses some cool mathematical questions in her work with kids. Things like: How many times do I have to repeat this 'jump and turn' to get back to where I started?

I think this post is my favorite for getting a sense of what she does. If you're like me, this blog will stretch your notion of how to approach math. You might also like this collection of math and dance links. (It's a wiki, please add to it if you're moved to.)

One more story about me and dance... At contra dances, when the band (there's always a live band) takes a break, waltz music goes on the sound system, and it's time for waltzing, which I. Could. Not. Do. I'd try to count - 1 23, 1 23, 1 23 - but it never helped. Part of my problem is that I like to take B.I.G steps when I try on my own to dance to that music. But there's another problem. The proper way to waltz involves 3 counts forward and 3 counts back. Two years ago, at the Queer Contra Dance Camp, a marvelous dancer showed me a different way to count, 1 23, 4 56. Somehow, that made all the difference. Now I can waltz - more or less.

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