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Engineering and Social Dance



NDEO Conference

October 17, 2003

Joan Walton


This was written for those of us who learn dance and those of us who teach it, in the hope of shedding some light on the reaction that takes place when arts information, in this instance, dance information, is transferred from one person to another.  In this presentation I will discuss Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences as applied to dance, and the magnetic attraction between Engineering majors at Stanford University and the Social Dance classes.  There are also some larger questions that intrigue me that I will address.  Questions about how people really prefer to learn dance and how we as teachers can facilitate the learning situation and prevent discouragement.  Dance teachers can extrapolate from the intelligences and learning styles of this small sub-culture on a college campus to their own situations.

The lilting music begins, and two by two, the dancers begin to Waltz.  All heights, weights, nationalities and different abilities fill the cavernous studio with movement.  They Waltz, Lindy Hop, Polka and Tango together as the music shifts and changes.  Some effortlessly leading and following, others stopping to confer with their partners on a new variation, all are focused on the task at hand.  The music stops.  They switch to new partners as the parade of dance styles continues: Foxtrot, Cross-step Waltz, Swing, Hustle . . .   Their teacher, Richard Powers, gently calls out occasional instructions and guidance to the room filled with swirling figures. 

These students are members of the Social Dance II class in the Dance Division at Stanford University.  At Stanford, 23% of the student population is in the School of Engineering.  In this Social Dance class, 52% of these students have majors in Engineering or related sciences.  In the advanced performing group, these numbers rise to 60%.  What was the connection, the attraction?  Was there some overlap in the skills necessary for both?  Did it have anything to do with the fact that their teacher Richard Powers had graduated from Stanford’s  School of Engineering years before?  The school newspaper regularly included cartoons on this topic, which showed me that I was not the only one who noticed this attraction. This study examines the intersection of Social Dance and the School of Engineering at Stanford, and explores the reasons behind the disproportionate numbers of students from Engineering and related technical majors who take Social Dance classes. 

Many of the more advanced dances that these students learn are complex and quickly taught.  The footwork is changeable, rapidly executed and often contains patterns not immediately apparent.  The relative positions of the partners’ bodies change frequently and rapidly, and must be led and followed with dexterity.  The number of Engineering majors per class increases with the level of difficulty of the material.  There is less time allotted to acquire the moves, less repetition, a greater deal of assumed knowledge, and a greater amount of self-correction required in the process.  It demands a higher standard of physical ability than the earlier levels. 

All of this naturally requires a strong Kinesthetic ability or awareness.  My interest in the writings of Howard Gardner initially prompted me to look for a link between Logical/Mathematical and Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligences as defined by Gardner in this population.  I later added Spatial and Musical intelligences to this list.  Gardner defines as core characteristics of Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence as the ability to control one’s bodily motions and to manipulate objects skillfully. (1)  He considers one’s own body to be an object and does not differentiate between the fine motor activities needed for the placement of tiny objects in electronic instruments, or the full-body movements required by the dancer.  In the case of Engineering, the ability to manipulate objects becomes especially important.  In Chapter 9 of Frames of Mind, Gardner discusses the high incidence of inventors and engineers, particularly engineers who learn and create by manipulating objects, who demonstrate a high degree of Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence. (2)  This intelligence is the dancer’s ability to “see-and-do”: to be able to transform a dynamic visual image into physical action, and to hear a direction and translate that into movement.

For these students to have been accepted into the School of Engineering implies strong Logical/Mathematical skills, which according to Gardner is the ability to translate concrete objects into symbols and manipulate them mentally, to be able to visualize without a concrete model, and the ability to create and relate abstract thoughts. (3)  Additionally, in the case of Engineering, a strong Spatial intelligence is needed.  Spatial characteristics are “the capacities to perceive the visual world accurately, to perform transformation and modifications upon one’s initial perceptions, and to be able to re-create aspects of one’s visual experience, even in the absence of relevant physical stimuli.” (4)  One can produce new forms in the mind’s eye, or mentally manipulate those forms that have been provided.


Through the use of eight in-person interviews I looked into the lifestyles and learning styles of these students, and found the lifestyle-balancing benefits offered by social dancing to be essential.  Their comments about socializing, interacting with the opposite sex, their learning styles and personality traits point to some basic commonalities in these areas, especially along gender lines.


This work examines classes that emphasize dancing with a partner, rather than all dancing per se.  In Stanford University’s Dance Division, that includes four classes: “Social Dance Forms of North America I,” “Social Dance Forms of North America II,” “The Stanford Vintage Dance Ensemble,” and “Social Dance of Latin America.”


What has emerged in this study is that there is a decided link between the Arts and the Sciences in these students’ lives, that the two disciplines do balance each other, but it is more complex than that. The intellectual and physical abilities these Engineering students share, how this lifestyle-balancing takes place, and the importance of the process and ambiance of the class, more than the product or acquired skill level, are all examined here. 



To aid me in my research, I called upon two friends to act as informants.  My informants are Monica Shen Knotts and Ryan Knotts, both graduates of Stanford’s School of Engineering, longtime friends, and major participants in the Stanford Social Dance scene. 


In addition to the two Informants, I interviewed six social dancers, two from each of the “Social Dance I” and “Social Dance II” classes as well as two from the Vintage Dance Ensemble, one of whom was also taking  “Dances of Latin America.”  These delightful interview subjects, six men and two women, had thought deeply about these issues.  They gave thoughtful and sometimes heartfelt responses in a wonderfully entertaining manner.  Besides representing the different Social Dance classes, they were chosen for their cultural diversity (five cultures), gender (representing the 75/25% male-to-female ratio in the School of Engineering), a wide age range (from 19 to 30 years old), and different majors within the School of Engineering (six).  Their dance backgrounds varied from “no previous dance experience” to “years and years of ballet, jazz and tap.”  I have supplemented these interviews as well with information gleaned from five years of informal discussions on this topic with my scientifically-oriented Vintage Dance friends.


The questions asked of all eight interviewees centered around their dance background, their learning styles and strong skills, and the psychological, social and emotional benefits they derived from Social Dancing at Stanford University.  From these interviews, I gathered information about the link between the constellation of skills and intelligences required of both an Engineering major and for dancing with a partner.   In addition, these interviews revealed several commonalities in the social, emotional, psychological and physical reasons for their attraction to Social Dance. 



The educational issues were intriguing.  All were very aware of their strengths as learners, and were able to articulate them to me quite easily and in great detail.  They talked about Left vs. Right-brained learning styles and the qualities of good teaching.  There appears to be a high level of Musical intelligence in this group as well, as all of them play a musical instrument with proficiency.  All eight spoke of themselves as visual learners and demonstrated, in classroom observations, a high level of Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence in proportion to their dance experience.



The Logical/Mathematical Connection

Overall, the use of mathematics in learning to dance is not surprising.  The common ground of numbers, of counts, and the geometry of the dances are obvious and the students’ constant use of mathematics and numbers in processing dance information was quite predictable.  Because of the already long-established relationship between music and mathematics, dating back to Pythagoras, for many it was a very small leap to translate this mathematical/musical skill to dance.  All eight of the extremely musical interviewees learn dance in a very mathematical and musical way.  One Aeronautics & Astronautics major puts it very neatly: “Music and math are one.  Music is humanized math, basically.”  A Computer Systems major more concretely says, “I think mathematically for the Lindy.  I use numbers.  I hear a downbeat and know I have seven more beats to do something before the rock-step comes back.” 


This form of mathematical thinking sometimes goes beyond basic numerical or geometric skills.  In the Course Reader for Dance 046 -  Social Dance, (5) a Mathematics major wrote about “The Math of the Waltz.”  She says:

Waltz is by far the most logical dance and the most geometrically designed as well.  It resembles a sine and cosine wave proceeding together - the sine wave half a Pi before the cosine one.  I bring up this analogy because a cosine wave is a sine wave shifted half a Pi in time, and so is Waltz, if we view the man as the sine wave and the woman as a cosine wave.  The beauty of it comes from the fact that unless the partners understand that it must be completely symmetrical, it does not work. 


This is high-level mathematical thinking applied to Social Dance, and seems to fall well within Gardner’s description of “the ability to translate concrete objects into symbols and manipulate them mentally.” 


The last form of mathematical thinking in dance involves Spatial intelligence as well as numbers. It involves making judgments about rotation and velocity, predicting where one’s partner will end up, and putting one’s own body in the correct place at the correct time.  One of the Computer Science majors says, “I like adjusting for my partners.  Gauging corrective measures, like if I know she’s not going to make it around all the way, I can correct and be in the right place to meet her.” 



                 The Bodily/Kinesthetic Connection

This would appear to be the most obvious intelligence for the learning and execution of dance. Most of the interviewees alluded to or flatly stated that they had a good kinesthetic sense.  Especially in the more skilled dancers, we see this intelligence come to the fore.  One graduate states, “I have a very highly developed kinesthetic memory.”  Another says, “I’m visual and kinesthetic . . .  I think I have a pretty good memory for this stuff.”


Though the links to Engineering may not be immediately apparent, there is a connection between the development of Logical/Mathematical and Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligences as described by Piaget.  It is based on the idea of manipulation of objects in space.  He states that the early learning of mathematical concepts is based on “a confrontation with the world of objects,” that young children learn math by manipulating objects. (6)  Picture the Kindergarten teacher demonstrating the concept of addition and subtraction by using blocks and asking the child how many are left after you “take away” one, or how many are there when you add one.   Eventually these operations are translated to symbols and later manipulated in the mind, but the foundation of learning math is in the world of the concrete, the world of the physical. 


This ties in with Gardner’s core characteristic of those who excel in Bodily/Kinesthetic intelligence, who learn and create by “the manipulation of objects.”  He gives biographical accounts of computer whiz-kids and says, “Such biographical accounts indicate that an interest in manipulation, in putting together (or taking apart) and in the eventual reassembly of objects may play an important formative role in the development of an engineer; such activity may also provide a needed island of reinforcement for an individual who shows scant interest (or skill) in other domains of experience.” (7)   Additionally, he writes about Einstein’s “Object-Centered Mind” in Creating Minds: “Einstein’s interests centered around the world of objects and the physical forces around them.  (He) saved his ardor for the relations among objects.” (8)


Since Gardner considers one’s own body to be an “object,” there is the possibility that in Social Dance the leader may in some way consider the follower’s body to be an object as well.  To make the correct movements in order that one might lead a partner to a certain place, or to control one’s own body in order to influence the position of another’s, fall under the umbrella of “manipulation of objects,” and are fundamental to early mathematical learning and later success as an inventor, an engineer, or a Social Dancer. 



The Spatial Intelligence Connection

In order to successfully learn and execute a dance movement, one must be able to picture it being done by others, or preferably, by the self, and then replicate it.  This inner visualization goes beyond visual perception, when things are merely seen accurately, and includes the core characteristics of Spatial intelligence: to mentally transform or modify that which is seen, and imagine that which has never been seen.  The ability to take that which is seen on another’s body, and place it within oneself speeds the learning process and gives confidence to the dancer when executing the moves. 


I have heard many dancers speak about the “movie in my mind,” and all eight of these Engineering majors have this ability to take an image and place it within, sometimes rotating the image or viewing it from a different angle in the process.  This is different from viewing oneself in a mirror, or simultaneously aping the moves of the teacher.  A Product Design major (which is Mechanical Engineering plus Art) says that for her Engineering work she must use “Abstract thinking - visualizing in space.  I have to visualize three-dimensionally what it’s going to look like.  It’s the same in dance.  You see something and turn it in your head.”  An Aeronautics & Astronautics Engineer is even more explicit:

"I usually try to match a model I have.  That model can be whoever is teaching.  Then I try to substitute myself in there. Turn the picture into myself.  I see myself; someone dressed in black, doing the steps, going here, going there.  Like a movie - a photographic memory.  I see myself doing the dance.  I know that my leg is supposed to look like this in this posture, in this attitude and I see myself doing it.

This is an example of the Spatial intelligence – in which Engineers excel - being put to use in the service of learning dancing. 




The Engineering Connection


There appears to be a happy marriage between the way Social Dance is taught to these Engineering majors and the way they best learn, using their major intelligences.  Richard Powers is a Master Teacher whose own Engineering and musical background find a receptive audience in this population.  This does not mean that others who are not Engineers would not benefit from this teaching style, nor that this particular population couldn’t learn from someone who teaches differently.  But there is a particular comfort zone for these people, an appropriate level of mental and physical challenge, and the joy of recognizing of a familiar language that makes it easier for them to excel, and for them to take that difficult social step of trying something as public and extroverted as social dance. 


Everyone mentioned concrete ideas about what constitutes good teaching, what works for them, and more universal pedagogical intangibles including: teachers who have a positive attitude that helps students keep trying when things are difficult, teachers who are passionate about their work, and a spiritual idea: “The process of learning together . . . it’s like growing together and it somehow makes a connection with that person.   The physical contact - it increases, enhances the process of learning about dancing.”  But the most insightful link between being an Engineering major and being taught by a former Engineer came from a Computer Systems major.  He said that, “As an engineer, you want to break down real world situations into their most basic ideas ... to make it really simple so you can work with it and figure it out.  And that’s what (Richard) does a lot.  He says ‘step one: cross over.’ He breaks it down and makes it so you can understand it.”


While observing a Social II class, I watched Richard teach a new concept by distilling everything down to its lowest common denominator.  He began with no partners (for less cluttered learning; you only need think about yourself) and then the basic footwork was taught - first the Rights and Lefts and then in proper rhythm with counts at a slow tempo.  Added to that was direction - which way does each foot travel, which way am I turning, and where is it taking me?  He used devices such as focus: “Keep your eyes on the person on your right - you should be able to see that person the entire time you do these two half turns.”  Next, a partner was added to the equation, including a demonstration from him (with a partner) and tips for the leads on how to lead the step.  The slow tempo was constant.  Only at the end did he begin to speed up to a more realistic tempo.  Throughout, words and phrases such as the following were used: “L- shaped,” “face the courtyard,” “oscillate,” “into/out of the circle,” “90 degree angle.” And so on.  Very concrete, mathematical, and to this population, familiar, comfortable and meaningful. 


The ability of this teacher to break things down into their most basic components is coupled with an equal ability to paint vivid 3-dimensional pictures to illustrate the moves (i.e., Spatial intelligence) and communicate them to his students.  One beginning student remarked on the visual images that worked for him: “Pretend there’s a pole in front of you.  Now turn it,” and “Just get out of her way.”  He called them “analogies” and said, “For me it’s just throwing out enough analogies ‘till you get something right.  By throwing out analogies it points you in the right direction of where you’re supposed to be.  It’s one concept, and everything else kind of falls into place with that.”  The use of Spatial intelligence on the part of both the teacher and the student comes into play here.  


Although the intelligences of this teacher and this population appear to overlap, the method of teaching in the two departments (Dance and Engineering) does not.  Based on interviews and the Introductory Electronics class that I attended, the typical teaching style was the standard lecture version: 60 or 70 students seated in a large auditorium listening but not interacting and observing but not directly participating, as a professor discussed an image on the overhead projector.  Another difference is in the lag time between the teaching of, and then the trying out of new information.   In Computer Science there is a delay after the material is shown to when you can get to the lab to try it out vs. the ability to see, and then try out, a dance step as soon as it’s been taught.  So the two areas are similar in the skills needed to decode the information, but not similar in the manner of delivery of that information. 





As we grow through our lives, we learn how to create a balance between mind, body and spirit.  If any one or two of these three areas are ignored or allowed to atrophy, stress occurs and we go through, as one of the students termed it, “my breakdown quarter,” a period of depression, misery and intense questioning. 


All spoke of the balancing effects Social Dance has on their lives.  Their daily lives as Engineering majors are usually very sedentary, isolated and generally value rational, unemotional expression and linear thought.  An Industrial Engineer says she gains an emotional balance: “Here I was using my mind and my brain . . . all day long and really (having to) clamp down on emotions.  And there was a chance to really be expressive instead.  Very grounding for me.  No matter how pissed off I was, or upset, or depressed going in, I knew I’d be fine at the end (of the class).”  


The atmosphere in the two Social Dance classes is one of pleasantness, ease and “we’re here to learn and have a good time.”  There is a sense of comfortableness and playfulness among the dance partners, but with an overall attitude of working to learn.  The interviewees spoke of the safe, relaxed atmosphere in class, and how it was “a relief to go there.”  This overall sense of ease and enjoyment not only contributes to the “social” feeling of the dance classes, it keeps learning levels high, as it has been shown in many studies that people learn faster and retain more of what they learn when they are in a relaxed state. (9) 


Another balance that occurs is one of tension-holding to tension-releasing.  Working for hours under a deadline in a rather sedentary state can create stress and tension, and the chance to be physically free and active is basic.  To be given the chance to relax in a physically active way, is a gift this dance form gives to these sometimes driven students. A Computer Science major says,


(I get) a certain degree of relaxation.   My brain goes a million miles an hour, and not until I actually get onto a dance floor and hear the music and think about doing moves and going through different things, does my brain just focus on one idea and totally relax.  Even when I have a problem set, a midterm or some paper due, and I know I just need some relaxation, dancing is one way of taking one hour and just letting my brain completely relax.  Then I’m much more relaxed.  Normally I’m just really, really tense doing work.  Relax, think about it for a second - it’s much easier. 


Dancing can also replace less-desirable ways of releasing stress.  One man started Social Dancing over a year ago.  Here is his story: “Friday and Saturday, once you have the ability to do so, you hit the bar and just get totally hammered.  And (we) did it to a certain degree to totally relax, hang around with a couple of friends.  It’s the same idea.  It serves the same purpose.  But the last time I’ve been drunk was about a year and a half ago.” 


Finally, many find a meditative quality to this type of dance, once they reach a basic level of competence.  The combination of continuous, repetitive physical activity, with a musical or drumming ostinato, and with the possible addition of rotation or spinning resulting in altered states of consciousness has been documented by many in articles on trance dance. This combination of music, movement, and continuous repetition occurs naturally in dancing and can have a calming and focusing effect.   A Product Design major says


It centers me.  Emotional centering through the physical.  With all these things pulling at me, it’s like dance lets things spiral down to a single point where I know where I am.  After dancing, everything makes sense.  It brings me back to a center where I realize what’s important and what’s not and it’s simply that clearing out of the mind.  And it’s not just Waltzing, where it’s the centering, it’s any kind of dance where it’s my body thinking so that I can let things go for a moment.


In the high-stress atmosphere of Stanford University, this form of stress release can act as breakdown-prevention. 




There is a reason why I didn’t title this section “Interactions with the Opposite Sex.” The Engineering School at Stanford is very male-dominated; nearly 75% of its students are men.  The women aren’t looking for opportunities to meet men.  They are surrounded daily by quite a majority.  But every man I interviewed mentioned this in some form.  One man said, “I never actively thought about this, but it’s really shocking that the Social Dance classes are the only classes I’ve taken at Stanford which are gender balanced.”  All of the male interviewees spoke of the interactions between the sexes as a very strong and positive motivation for them to learn or continue dancing, and felt that dance acted as a facilitating factor in communicating with the opposite sex.  Others have also mentioned this in some form or another.  One young man started dancing because he was interested in a young woman who danced.  Over a year later, though the relationship had faded, he was still going out dancing five nights per week, having added dance to his list of interests as well as feminine companionship. 


We often tend to underestimate or forget the level of awkwardness and shyness that may attend social interactions for this age group in a university setting.  The fear of rejection or incompetence still looms.  A Beginning dancer said, “There’s only so much humiliation I can take.  I usually embarrass myself almost every time.   You still feel spotlighted when you’re just there with one partner, at least I do.”


When asked “what is the worst thing about social dance?” the men answered with some variation of, “Rejection!  Being thought of as a bad partner - that was the scariest thing.”  Or, “Asking women to dance . . .  it’s terrible.  It’s scary.  It’s dangerous.  I might not dance well.”   Having a teacher there to give you a road map to guide you through the social minefield is reassuring, as is having a group of friends that you see twice a week to help you along. 


Because of the fears that often accompany social situations, they spoke in relieved tones of the physical comfort level dancing has given them for interacting with the opposite sex.  One man described the average Engineer as “good at math but not the greatest in dealing with women.”  He went on to say how “the rule-based environment of a Social Dance class makes this interaction much easier.  Your hands go here.  Your feet go there.  Everything is concretely spelled out.”  This gave me insight into the relationship between the rule-based (i.e., Logical/Mathematical) thinking that is familiar to Engineers, and the rule-based structure of a Social Dance class.  The presence of rules or guidelines to follow in Social Dance lends a comfortable familiarity to those who have so well learned the rules of math and logic.  It is easy to see the attraction for structure-seekers who want to interact with the opposite sex. 


This comfortableness with physical proximity that comes with Social Dance is a welcome benefit, and one interviewee said that for him, social dance serves as an icebreaker.  “After a while you’ve...led so many ladies, it doesn’t really scare you to go up to a girl and hold onto her shoulder . . .  and move her around.  It’s no big deal because you’ve done it a thousand times.  You feel comfortable enough.”  Especially for beginners, the safety of the socially familiar, the new-found comfort in physical proximity and the rules of the dance class translated into a confidence and willingness to participate in non-class settings. 




The relative isolation of work in the Engineering field is often underestimated.  The question “what do you get out of Social Dance?” invariably got responses like “I get social contact” or “a group connection” or just “human interaction.”  Some days, as one engineering student put it, “your most significant social contact is being lectured at.”  The theme of community and connection as a balance to an isolating work environment came up repeatedly, sometimes referring to connection in the sense of a group connection, but also in forming a connection with one’s dance partner. 


The extremely interactive style of Social Dance acts as a counterbalance for the relatively isolated profession of an Engineer.  Most spend their days working solo.  As one put it, “I’m basically locked down in the dungeon that is my life.”  When I compare it to more gregarious majors like my own - Dance Education, in which every class is a discussion group or one in which we interact in some way - this seems quite isolating indeed.  The Introductory Electronics class that I observed was just as the students described it to me: no one interacted with anyone, they sat with at least one empty seat between them, the professor lectured for an hour, and there were far more men than women in the class.  It seems the chance to interact with others outside of their major who share an interest is very valuable to them; it balances them socially, and they mentioned it over and over. 


Forming a community of dance friends makes it “safe” to go out dancing.  For the women, they felt that they could go to a club with any number of the men in their class and not have to take a bodyguard with them.  For the men, they felt that the women in their class were at their same level, and wouldn’t be annoyed if there was a misstep.   “I made a point to basically dance with the other people in the class  because I know they’re at my level . . . it’s not embarrassing ‘cuz they do the same things.”  There is a feeling of a supportive community, especially at the higher levels of dance, for those who have been doing this for a year or more.  “You feel supported.  You know you have solid ground, so being part of a community and learning together and building that kind of connection, definitely helps a person.  It encourages learning and confidence.  It’s a connection that I can’t explain.  It’s more than words.”


Besides creating a community of friends, there were as many mentions of connection with a partner.  Many spoke of “having that magical waltz when you become one with your partner,” and of the almost spiritual connection made during dancing.  “You always feel like you have

more of an emotional connection with that person afterwards, even if you don’t really talk very often.”  This, they emphasize, is not just attraction, it is connection.  It may be explained in part by Richard Powers in his essay “Zen and the Art of Waltzing”:

Becoming one with motion has long been recognized as a gateway to deeper states.  And waltzing places you, and someone else, in the center of the most totally enveloping motion . . . you become far more deeply receptive of . . . this fascinating creature that is right there in front of you, in your arms, with you at the center of a vast spinning universe. (10)


Some mentioned a connection with the entire room moving to the music, not just one person. 

“Just the adrenaline rush of being with all these people, it’s just great.”  But whether it is a sense of a community of friends that is being fostered, or a feeling of connection with a room full of people, or a connection with one person, this most basic of human social needs - connection -  is being met through Social Dance at Stanford. 




Five of the six men viewed themselves as introverted, and the two women considered themselves to be extroverted.  This character trait plays into the two areas mentioned previously, in that it is more difficult to find community, connection and to interact with the opposite sex if you are not  naturally gregarious.  The men generally found any kind of extroverted behavior, even social conversation, to be difficult.  As one put it, “If I’m acting extroverted, it’s usually a push.”  The men in particular often needed that gentle nudge from a friend, or encouragement from a group to make the leap into a Social Dance class. 


The rewards are many, however, and they definitely see that Social Dance enhances their lives in myriad ways, but in this case by making them slightly more extroverted.  One said that “taking Social Dance I is a sign of being more extroverted,” and noted that “should I be at a party or something like that and everybody gets up and starts dancing, I don’t have to sit there and watch. I could be a participant rather than just an observer.” 



Educationally, this population demonstrates the presence of a constellation of four intelligences in varying but high degrees.  There is a strong relationship among the eight interviewees in learning styles, as they all speak of or demonstrate high visual learning skills, and call upon their Bodily/Kinesthetic, Spatial, Musical and Logical/Mathematical intelligences when they are learning Social Dance.  In addition, the overlap of these four skills between teacher and students are demonstrated daily in the lessons. 


How these students use Social Dance in their lives yields important clues about this intersection between Engineering and dance.  Everyone of this group used Social Dance to balance out their lives - the typical day as an Engineering major is quite physically inactive, Logical/Mathematical, and usually socially isolated - and the equalizing presence of Social Dance in one’s life provides variety and sanity.  I have shown links between the contrasting benefits of Engineering and Social Dance, how one balances out what is missing from the other in all of the mind/body/spirit areas.  In addition, they used dance to develop a sense of community and connection after leaving hometowns (and in some cases, home countries) to come to college, and to ease the sometimes awkward interactions between the sexes.   These dance and social skills make such interactions possible.


Among these students, there is a decided leaning toward “Dance as a Safety Valve.”  They spoke of its “centering” effects, how it gives them “mental relaxation” or works as a “stress-releaser.”   More than one student stated that they would “go crazy” if not allowed some physical-plus-artistic-plus-social outlet, and one student actually did have what she called “my breakdown” during a quarter when she could not dance, draw or write in her journal due to a wrist injury.   


The second most common theme mentioned was the sense of establishing a feeling of oneness with their dance partners, and sometimes with the entire room.  Some spoke of connecting with their dance partners, and moving as one person, and that there was a sense that this person was somehow special, or close. Every single interviewee mentioned one of these two themes. 

The good-natured humor and tolerance of the beginning students, the feeling of warmth, love and intensity that shone through when the more advanced students spoke, and the openness and sincerity displayed by all, made this project a true work of love for me.  I experienced during these interviews what one dancer said he experienced with dance: “It’s like going from black-and-white TV to color TV.  If you go back to black-and-white, you still have TV but it’s not like color.  So dance has brought that kind of color to my life.”  And so has this project brought that kind of color to mine. 



1.  Gardner, Howard.  1983.  Frames of Mind: the theory of multiple intelligences.  p. 206


2.  Ibid.: p. 231-233


3.  Ibid.: p. 134


4.  Ibid.: p. 173


5. Powers, Richard.  1998.  Social Dance Forms of North America Course Reader.  “The Math of the Waltz”


6. Piaget, Jean.  1971.  Genetic Epistomology. 


7.  Gardner, Howard.  1983.  Frames of Mind: the theory of multiple intelligences.  p. 233


8. Gardner, Howard.  1993.  Creating Minds. p. 101-102.


9. Tracy, Brian.  1996.  Accelerated Learning Techniques.  Audio Book.


10.  Powers, Richard.  1998.  Social Dance Forms of North America Course Reader. “Zen and the Art of Waltzing”




1. Ryan Knotts; November 5, 1998 at Hobee’s Restaurant


2. Monica Shen Knotts; November 5, 1998 at Hobee’s Restaurant


3. Graham Waldon; November 14, 1998 at Roble Office


4. Jim Czaja; November 14, 1998 at Roble Office


5. Alex Protopopescu; November 16, 1998 at Roble Office


6. Ivan Parra; November 18, 1998 at Roble Office


7. Delphine Lai; November 18, 1998 at Roble Office


8. Edoardo Maragliano; November 20, 1998 at Lyman Residences





Gardner, Howard.  1983.  Frames of Mind: the theory of multiple intelligences.  New York: Basic Books, Inc.


Gardner, Howard.  1993.  Creating Minds: an anatomy of creativity seen through the lives of . . .  

New York: Basic Books, Inc.


Gardner, Howard.  1993  Multiple intelligences: the theory in practice. 


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