Where Math and Dance Intersect

Where Math and Dance Intersect

Though math and dance may seem like opposing disciplines with little intersection, on Saturday, September 15, at Bryn Mawr College, Dr. Karl Schaffer taught members of the Tri-College community just how interrelated they really are. As the first Mellon Tri-Co Artist-in-Residence of the year, Schaffer mounted “Where Patterns Collide: Math and Dance,” an interactive workshop explored the way dance and math are naturally connected.

Dr. Karl Schaffer addresses the crowd at Bryn Mawr College.


Schaffer began by demonstrating how geometric figures, such as tetrahedrons, regularly appear both in art and nature. He then got the audience involved by choreographing the students in attendance in a movement piece based on geometric figures.

“The event felt like a balance between a lecture on the real-world presence of math and a dance workshop,” said Thomas Bonner, the Tri-Co Creative Residencies coordinator.

Click photos to enlarge.

Schaffer is a co-director of MoveSpeakSpin, a dance company he founded in 1987 with Erik Stern.  Since then the company has toured internationally and received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County and the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County.  The company’s latest show, The Daughters of Hypatia: Circles of Mathematical Women, celebrates the contributions of women mathematicians. When he is not on tour, Dr. Schaffer teaches mathematics at De Anza College in California.

All photos: copyright Roy Groething for Bryn Mawr College


  1. Dr. Schaffer has an unmentioned HC connection: one of his collaborators is a Haverford alumn (me). He and I gave a lecture-demonstration together at national mathematics meetings, then documented this in an article that’s being reprinted in The Best Writing on Mathematics 2012. Further, a bit of my choreography appears via video in his latest show, mentioned above.

  2. I too teach math (middle school) and would love to see the video on inter-relating the two disciplines. How do I get to see/purchase the video?

  3. Interesting article – as a scientist and dancer, I would be interested in learning more of the details of the math-dance connection being explored in the workshop described in this article. Here are two links which speak about the connection between matrices, groups, and contra dancing:



    (For the musically inclined: in the article, when the author talks about ‘beats’ , I believe it should read ‘bars’.)

  4. To Michael Gregg: You can get details on Karl’s workshop from the book he and Erik Stern wrote (Math Dance). I believe it can be purchased at mathdance.org/.
    There’s also an article about mathematics and contra dance by Wing Mui in Journal of Mathematics and the Arts.

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