Working the Numbers: Math Problem-Solving in Dance

Each year, our school offers a “Math Night.”

Teachers offer various activities that endorse mathematical thinking mostly through problem-solving experiences. It is fun; the kids have activity cards stamped and after visiting the required number of stations, they can partake in other fun types of games and enjoy pizza or ice cream.

Illustration by Daniel NgIn the last few years, I have used this to introduce my own type of problem-solving that we have continued in the studio in subsequent weeks.

Although some of these activities could lend themselves to the creation of a dance for formal presentation- I warn you: to do so, artistically speaking, would be highly cliche. I offer this note because I have seen it done and heard the ridicule offered. Wear your “material to promote connected learning” vs. “material as a source for dance-making” filter as you continue reading.

Dancing Fractions


  • To physicalize divisions of the body and bring physical thinking to “fractions”
  • To further examine “isolations”, including multiple isolations occurring simultaneously
  • To provide a strategy for generating movement for composition sketches

Introduction: Dividing into smaller portions of the body, smaller isolations

  • Start by moving whole body (1)
  • Divide body into halves and move correlating parts (1/2): Right/Left, Upper/Lower
  • Divide body into quadrants and move (1/4): Upper Right, Upper Left, Lower Right, Lower Left
  • Divide further into eighths (1/8): Whole arm is divided at elbow, whole leg is divided at knee
  • Divide further into sixteenths (1/16): hand, feet (Think smaller portion, not necessary 16 small parts represented specifically)
  • Divide further into thirty-seconds (1/32): fingers, toes


Students receive equations of adding or subtracting fractions, and create ways to “dance” the problem or series of problems to create movement phrases featuring isolation

Further activities:

Fosse Math: Observe an age-appropriate movement excerpt to identify and discuss use of isolation and stylized movement. Assign a dancer to a group of students in the course and have them “do the math” of the isolations in Fosse’s choreography.

Budgeting the Show


  • To introduce the extent of decision-making required in concert production
  • To model logical thinking in problem-solving
  • To introduce budgeting

Introduction: (there are multiple ways to “play” this game)

Dance Production BudgetPlace cards ($100, $200, $300, choreographer’s choice, in-kind….) within categories such as: Number of performers, Music, Costuming, Lighting, Venue

Begin by explaining that everything involved in producing a concert costs money. Depending on the community, some things cost more or less than other places and some things are donated “in-kind”.

Concept: Choreographers must make choices about their work, and how they spend their budget, based on the following questions (not a complete list)

  • Do you want to make a solo or group work?
  • If you can’t afford both, which is a priority: original musical score, originally designed costumes?
  • Do you have a venue? Is it a union house?
  • Are you responsible for hiring Stage Manager and crew?
  • Do you have a lighting designer?
  • Do you have a set/media designer?
  • Do you have projection needs that may require rented equipment?
  • Are you paying dancers a salary, a stipend, or an honorarium?
  • Will you write grants? When are the deadlines? How does this impact your timeline?


Many students want the fame and glory of the life of a performer but have little understanding of what is exactly involved.

This exercise can be a great motivator for those that “just want to dance” and need to know that their work in technique class needs a jolt of energy and focus. It is also great for those that want a life in the field and are willing to do anything and everything to have it. Even if they choose not to perform, there are a million other ways they have be involved in the arts.

Wondering if these are samples of arts integration, arts enhancement, or arts infusion? Read Let’s Talk Arts Integration.

Otherwise, how are you bringing mathematical thinking out in your teaching?

Heather Vaughan-Southard
Heather Vaughan-Southward specializes in connection and community building. She offers project-based learning in K-12 and healthcare contexts, pedagogy consultation, and creative-self-care experiences. Heather formerly directed dance programs in Higher Education and K-12 settings and danced professionally in Chicago, NYC, Los Angeles, and through-out Michigan. She represents Dance for the Michigan Arts Education Instruction and Assessment project (MAEIA), serves as a columnist for Dance Advantage, authors the blog EducatingDancers, and was invited to the Editorial Board of the Journal of Dance Education. She is a national conference presenter in the fields of dance and movement pedagogy and is completing a comprehensive pilates certification through the McEntire School. Heather currently serves as Director of Health and Education Services for Happendance, Inc., a non-profit dance organization based in Michigan. Heather is married to author Scott D. Southard and has two children who seem to be in perpetual motion.
Heather Vaughan-Southard


  1. This is a wonderful article! Emphasizing the importance of Math in class is crucial! Also, allowing students to see what it truly takes in the dance world is an important job for a teacher – everyone can LOVE dance but being a professional dancer is not for everyone. This is a unique way to help them discover this.

  2. This is good stuff — that’s exactly how children get into the other sides of stage and production work, and it can change their life. Love it.

  3. Good stuff: fractions! budgeting! Then there’s counting the music (which comes naturally to some, but can be quite a challenge to others). And circle geometry in ronds de jambes, and drills for pirouettes and tours en l’air (quarters, halves, etc.) and the dazzling men’s trick, the 540. Not to mention physics: Newton’s 3rd law governing the action of battements dégagés and grands battements, pushing down into the floor so that the floor will push back up and help you. More physics in the amount of torque you place on the hip joint when lifting your leg (which explains why 90 degrees is the most effective height at which to work the leg during class, because it requires the most strength to hold) and in the amount of torque you place on the ankle if you don’t get all the way up in relevé. Which all goes to prove that dancers who have a grasp of technique are natural mathematicians and physicists!

  4. Love the idea of dancing fractions! Will definitely try this out in my primary schools. Want to try out the idea of dancing with half a body – right / left, top / bottom, anterior / posterior!

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