It’s a classic conundrum for creative kids: should you dance or play the drums? Well, why not do both at once? Percussive dancers use their feet to beat out neat rhythms, and when a group of dancers get together, it can sound like a thunderstorm! We spoke with Malke Rosenfeld, who’s been dancing and teaching for years with Math in Your Feet, and we found out that you can’t learn percussive dance without also learning math!
BTM: How did you get into percussive dancing? Have you always loved to dance?
Malke: I’ve always loved dancing, but I haven’t danced my whole life. I started playing a musical instrument when I was nine and took some dance classes too, but I didn’t start percussive dance until I was 26 and had graduated from college.
BTM: But it’s never too late to start doing something you love, right?
Malke: That’s right! I actually got into percussive dancing because I was playing traditional Irish music and I saw people dancing to the music we played and wanted to do it myself! Shortly after that I was asked to join a dance company, which led to performing in the famous “Riverdance” show in London. I stayed with that dance company for a few years, and then started my own band, before moving on to teaching.
BTM: How do you teach percussive dance? What’s a typical class like?
Malke: In Math in Your Feet we always start a class with warm ups using Jump Patterns, which are basic foot-based movements based on the styles of step dance and clogging. Then everyone moves to their 2 by 2-foot squares marked off with tape, which helps students think about where they’re standing in space, where they would like to go, and how they will get there. There are lots of ways to make rhythm and patterns in your feet. You can think about foot position (feet together, split, right foot, and left foot), the different directions you can move in your square (forward, back, diagonals, left and right), and the type of movements you can use to get into position (jump, slide, step, turn, and touch).
BTM: So there’s not really a set of rules you have to follow to dance percussively?
Malke: You do have to stay within the structure of the traditional music. But, it’s more like you have a set of tools, and there are many ways you can combine these basic movements to create a unique 4-beat pattern. Kids start by working with a teammate to make their patterns, and then the best part: they start learning from each other. We play games where we watch each other’s dance patterns to spot differences and similarities, which can be very small details. For example, maybe the 3rd beat is a slide instead of a step, but two patterns are otherwise identical. We also play with transformation and symmetry too, moving the starting position of a pattern or making a mirror reflection of a pattern.
BTM: Doesn’t it get terribly loud with 30 pairs of feet stomping and sliding?
Malke: It can, but it’s a good kind of loud! It’s the sound of kids exploring the space around them and experimenting to make something completely new. The kids also combine their 4-beat patterns to make a new 8-beat pattern. I’ve been teaching Math in Your Feet for years and I’ve never seen the same 8-beat pattern twice.
BTM: So if a kid wants to perform percussive dance, what type of math skills do they need to know?
Malke: When you make math and dance at the same time you obviously use and strengthen geometric and spatial reasoning skills. In percussive dance there’s also pattern building, recognition and analysis which is also a big part of mathematical thinking. And a really important part of both dance and math is attitude: don’t be afraid to challenge yourself to try new things. It’s fun to play around with ideas, whether it be in dance or math!