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Did You Know You Are Teaching Maths?

Did You Know You Are Teaching Maths?

17 March 2014

Corinne Wolfe, gives some tips on how to branch out and use your dance teaching skills more widely

Mathematics has never had a higher profile in the news as politicians beat their chests and talk about children in other countries outperforming those in the UK. This means that you, as dance teachers, have never been in a more marketable position as schools try to engage and enthuse the students in mathematics.

After 10 years as a Ballet teacher and 10 years as a maths teacher my experience has inevitably created a rather different perspective on how to use creativity in teaching maths. If I can enthuse my students by dancing maths – then so can you. In addition to my own teaching maths to students aged 11–18, I now give workshops to maths teachers on ‘How to Teach Maths through Movement and Rhythm’, borrowing mercilessly from everything I ever taught in the dance studio. 

“The choreographic potential is obvious whatever the style of dancing and no matter how complex or simple the movements”

I teach equivalent fractions by getting the teachers to create rhythms to a bar of 4/4 putting together half notes, quarter notes, eighth and twelfth notes just as we do in Tap. The only difference is that when they’ve created the rhythms and taught them to another pair, they then have to write down the sum and show how it adds up to a whole using common denominators. This is perfect for upper primary or lower secondary teachers.

Multiple moves sees one group dancing a sequence of five movements repeatedly while another repeats a sequence of four movements. When both groups finish their sequences at the same moment then they have found that the lowest common multiple of 4 and 5 is 20 – great for adding and subtracting fractions too.

The theatre as a maths classroom, British International School, Jakarta

The Cecchetti Ballet method involves the corners and walls of the room labeled from 1 – 8. Using these you can get the students to face corner 1 (downstage right) and rotate, for example, 135 degrees clockwise to see that they end facing wall 7 (upstage). This offers great angles revision with some adding and subtracting thrown in for good measure.

In class, I ask students to reflect themselves in an imaginary line across the room and then give the students 30 seconds to run into the place that they have been reflected. They can see that those directly on the axis of reflection stay put whilst those who are farthest away have to race to the other side of the room as they have the longest distance to travel.

I’m currently choreographing a piece of dance with my maths class showing how consecutive triangle numbers make a square number. The triangular numbers 1, 3, 6, 10, 15 etc. created by adding one more number each time and so beautifully demonstrated in Swan Lake, can be put together in consecutive pairs to make square numbers 4, 9, 16, 25 etc. The choreographic potential is obvious, whatever the style of dancing and no matter how complex or simple the movements. However, as long as you are reinforcing the number patterns along the way, you are teaching maths. The students are so receptive and see nothing odd about learning maths in the theatre instead of the classroom. With laminated numbers (1 – 36) around each of their necks I can keep track of who is where and get non dancers to create something wonderful.

Year 7 students create the triangle number, ten

Next I will create a piece on factors entitled ‘5 is not a Factor of 12’. I have posted this dance on YouTube under the heading ‘Maths Dance’, Triangular Squares if you would like to see how this idea works in practice. We break down numbers automatically as choreographers – 12 dancers become groups of 6, 4, 3, 2, 1 or even 12 and these are the factors of 12 but alas, in the dance, 5 is not!

You may be teaching dance but you’re really teaching maths and that’s before I talk about constants and variables, symmetry, angles, reflection, rotation, functions and translation. You too can develop these ideas and offer your expertise to a local primary or secondary school to enhance their maths lessons during the day; it just takes a little imagination. If you are a Ted’s Talks fan you might have already seen how the idea of dancing science has been embraced with ‘Dance your PhD’ (John Bohannon and Black Label Movement). 

Needless to say, my maths lessons can be a little unusual but at least, like my career so far, there is no time to get bored. Good luck if you would like to try out any of these ideas and please let me know how you get on.

Corinne Wolfe (neé Jacobs) LISTD


Corinne taught Cecchetti Ballet at the Edmonton School of Ballet, Alberta, Canada, the Arts Educational School, Tring and Hurst Lodge in Sunningdale before retraining as a maths teacher, teaching in the UK, Shanghai and Hong Kong. She is currently teaching at the British School of Jakarta, Indonesia but she also delivers workshops internationally and writes on maths and creativity. If you would like more information or if you are interested in a workshop or collaboration around these or other ideas on maths and creativity please contact corinnewolfe@gmail.com.


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