Yale Offers A Course That's Cross-Listed Between Physics & Theatre Arts

Class is held in a dance studio equipped with a white board, and students are tasked with calculating their choreography and dancing their equations.

"The Physics of Dance" is run by Sarah Demers from the physics department, and Emily Coates from theatre arts. It's an introduction to physics and dance, classical and modern. It takes interdisciplinary studies and bumps it up a notch, not just teaching how physics can be used to analyze dance, or using dance to explore a science concept as in Dance Your PhD, but fully integrating a curriculum of both disciplines.

This sounds completely bonkers, a charge the instructors don't deny in an interview with Symmetry. Physicist Demers explains the dimetric differences is exactly the a:

"Our disciplines carry opposing stereotypical strengths and weaknesses, and putting the two together helps us to break these down."

So, what does a day in class actually look like? It's a fully interdisciplinary course where science and dance hold equal weight, so students better be ready to dance, calculate, or both every session. The dance professor Coats explains:

"In the studio work, we explore the effects of physical forces on our bodies and use the scientific concepts as points of departure for creating choreographic studies."

Lectures are in the dance studio, with a whiteboard for working problems. Sometimes the physics comes from the dance, evaluating dance styles with equations. Other times the dance comes from the physics, using theories to inspire creative choreography.

While sitting in on one of Demers' physics lectures, Coates noticed that Demers described the Higgs boson kinesthetically, with a constant stream of inventive gestures to explain what this mysterious particle actually is to her students. This inspired Three Views of the Higgs, a video sequence investigating the particle. The video starts by asking physicists to describe the Higgs Boson using the vocabulary of dance, before muting their voices to highlight the inevitable sweeping gestures and intricate hand motions that accompanies any physics talk.

This class is cool, but it isn't unique. Wesleyan University is so enthralled by science choreography that they've set up resources for teachers to integrate this style of learning into their classrooms along with a lot more videos of science dances.

So much of education is based around teaching through just a few learning modalities — lectures, written assignments, maybe presentations or group work. A typical course is great for linguistic, logical, or visual learners, but a lot less friendly for musical or kinaesthetic learners. Pairing dance and physics is a great way to create classrooms with mixed student populations while relying on a different learning modality.

What other interdisciplinary combinations could work?

Top image credit: G. Gollin