Tracey: 00:02 Hello and welcome to NC state's audio abstract. I'm your host, Tracey Peake. Complex mathematics and modern dance. Both have the reputation for being difficult to understand. Today we're speaking with Tye Lidman, assistant professor of mathematics at NC state, and Michelle Pearson, artistic director of Blackbox Dance Theater, which specializes in nonfiction, modern dance in North Carolina and abroad. They're working together to translate complex mathematical concepts into dance in an effort to make both fields more accessible to the public. Welcome Tye and Michelle. Hello. Hello. Thanks for having us. Yeah, I'm glad you guys could be here today. So let's get right to it. Math and dance. They seem pretty far removed from one another. What do they have in common and why would you do bring them together?
Tye: 01:06 Well, in my mind, something that math and dance have in common is they give a way of communicating important concepts. Um, so they.So for instance, in math we produce a language for engineers, for physicists, for scientists to basically turn their ideas into something very rigorous that they can use in dance. I feel like it's very similar. Oftentimes they're communicating emotion or difficult social concepts and they give a vehicle for producing this it,
Tracey: 01:27 Michelle, from the dancer's perspective, what were the commonalities,?
Michelle: 01:31 You know, when Tye first approached me and introduced himself as a math professor, I immediately saw numbers and um, of course dancers count and you know, music has a certain mathematical pattern to it, but then he started to describe to me his math and it's incredibly a whole different area that I was not familiar with around topology and not theory in the fourth dimension. And he started talking about shapes and how they move and behave in space and how things are understood differently in different dimensions. And right away I saw the connection to black box and our work in the world particularly around, um, understanding anything, uh, with, uh, a more human story to it and using dance in our bodies to communicate and understand those things.
Tracey: 02:25 Tell me a little bit more about the topics that you're going to cover in this performance that you're putting together. What are we going to see?
Tye: 02:32 It's mainly going to cover topology, which is the science of shape. And we're going to take a few different aspects of that that we're gonna try to focus on, get some tidbits of that covered. So one of these is not theory, and so not theory is the study of mathematical knots. And so you should think of them as something like a shoelace maybe or your headphones after you stick them in your pocket in mathematics, we require that they be a completely closed loop. So that's sort of the definition that we work with and we want to study some of the properties of these knots, sort of how complex are they or can we tell if it's a knot or if it's knotted in some complicated way. And this has lots of applications to a biology into physics for instance. Uh, so that's one of the things we'll focus on. Another one will be dimension. Like Michelle said, dimensions govern so many things. So you know, we look at a map and that's an inherently two dimensional object. Or if you think about space and time together, that's four dimensions. But there's lots of other ways that dimensions arrived. So for instance, if you're a statistician and you're looking at a very large Dataset, then something that you would need to know is, you know, maybe you're looking at the age of all of your participants and their cholesterol levels and their weight and so you may have some complicated set of data that has tons and tons of different dimensions to it.
Michelle: 03:57 And topology gives ways of extracting this kind of information in terms of dance. I love the way to explain this to me. He said, you know, you know, you're probably familiar with geometry, triangles and squares and circles. And he said, you know, I try and go is the same in geometry. If the angles are the same and you know, you can kind of inverted and you can kind of mirror it to all of these different things. And it's the same. He said, well in Topology, take that triangle and you can stretch it. You can bend it, flip it, twist it, and it is still intrinsically the same shape. And then I really understood, well, you know, it's just like people, you know, I can move my body and flip it. And twist it and bend it and in topology this is the same surface. This is the same shape moving through space, just like any human being that you know what has to happen for us to have something intrinsically change the shape of us in the world. And I think it was in that moment that I thought this is going to be such an interesting inspiring collaboration.
Tracey: 05:03 So this has been a, I believe almost a two year collaboration at this point and along the way you've brought in people from all over the place. So it's not just a troupe of dancers performing the piece that you've created. It's also Tye is going to be dancing and some other folks. Can you tell me a little bit about the philosophy behind that behind, you know, including a lot of disparate audiences here.
Tye: 05:31 One of the major components of this project is that it's being funded by the National Science Foundation and a big, big part of any grants are a big part of what the National Science Foundation is pushing is broader impacts. So how can you take research and how can you relate it and how can you really expand the impacts to all of society and not just a bunch of mathematicians in a room just patting each other on the back.
Michelle: 05:58 And so one big way that we've been able to focus on doing these broader impacts is getting all these people involved and black box. I mean, we're really committed to North Carolina. We're part of the North Carolina Arts Councils, cartwheels program where we go across the state, into schools, into communities. We work with people of all ages, of all abilities. We work with our military, both active duTye and veterans. And um, one of our goals is to find a meaningful connections through dance, to have complex conversations, to celebrate, to question and to meet any subject matter with our, our complete selves. For us, it's important to include as many voices as we can in this conversation. And we just thought what would happen if we took some of these questions into different communities. You know, what are their answer's going to be, what kind of dances will they make? How were their bodies translate this and that's what we started doing what we call these little labs. They were kind of these movement math labs where we would have a concept and then try and figure out a physical structure that went with it and just kind of see what happens and so we've done these little math dance labs and the. The outcomes are great and I feel like that's still the beginning of something that we would like to consider. I'm taking further.
Tracey: 07:26 What do you want the audience to take away from this experience when they come in, if it's a bunch of high school students who come in and, oh, they hate math because we're going to sit here and memorize some formulas or if they just aren't comfortable with themselves physically, they don't want to dance. What? What would you hope that this hypothetical group of people would take away from your math lab or from watching a performance?
Michelle: 07:51 Actually, one of the things that brought us together on this collaboration was we sort of had the same belief, but you know, with our respective disciplines along the lines of what you said, you know, a lot of, a lot of people say, oh, I can't do math or I can't dance, you know, either one of these. And I think we both have the hope of just really dispelling those beliefs. Uh, we're really hoping to just sort of break down those perceived barriers to entry. And I agree with Tye, you know, ultimately the big picture, the more people who say they are bad at dance or have one picture of what dance looked like and who is supposed to be dancing. This is not good for my art form in the long run. And I think that's true for math. The more people who say I'm not a part of this, it doesn't affect me. I'm not allowed in. Um, it's not good for advancing and innovation. I would hope for, for three outcomes from the performance part. One is that we would find a way of translating or, um, kind of animating the vocabulary. And the concept of his research, you know, some of the, just the thoughts around it, that could be one part, but the second thing would be to somehow humanize it for different people to make connections to it. And then a third part say why does this matter? And I think ultimately both of us want the thing that we love the most to matter.
Tracey: 09:27 The two of you, what did you guys learn from each other during this process?
Tye: 09:39 Yeah, so something that was quite useful for me to learn is that the way I think about mathematics is not a very personal experience. It's very external to me. It's something that's my occupation and I really, really enjoyed doing it, but I don't feel like a very strong personal connection to it. And I'm. So something that I learned from working with Michelle and through this project is that a lot of people really gain a lot of value from this human connection in their work. So for instance, in this lab, this math and dance lab that we put on, it wasn't just the dance students that said, oh, I see this great human connection with mathematics. It was also some of the mathematicians that we had involved in this. Like we had some math phd students and a mathematics postdoc and one of their feedbacks also said, oh, it was really important for me to see this human connection with mathematics. And that was sort of opened up my eyes to maybe how other people do math or how they need to perceive mathematics to be successful at it.
Tracey: 10:38 When I think about math, I don't really think about the way that math would apply to me. The walking around in the world right now. So that is, that's an interesting new angle. Definitely. How about you, Michelle?
Michelle: 10:50 You know, like I said, I know when I go to math I go to numbers, although I'll still go to lines and shapes and however working with Tye I see those not as formulaic and stagnant but as living and moving in the world differently. And so being able to look at the shape of something and have a curiosity about it that I had not been had before, particularly mathematical is really cool. Um, I would say I learned a tremendous amount. I love learning new things. So I'm like, you know, trying to get all the facts right and I keep checking in with ties. This is this true, is this authentic, you know, I keep wanting to authenticate his research because I can really go off artistically and I want to return and say is this true? And then that information becomes available to anyone to build on it, to envision it, to apply it to the world, but it has to be grounded in mathematical discovery fact or you know, proof I guess, which is a really cool concept I had not thought of before that the math comes first.
Tracey: 12:01 So do you think that uh, you will be doing some more math dance collaborations in the future?
Tye: 12:07 But I think we're planning to continue doing these labs after the performance.
Michelle: 12:13 I'm all on it. That's like, I'm ready to make this work unfold and keep going in the world in as many different ways and I love introducing it as math. Um, it's surprising to people in it. For me, it invites people to participate who might've said no to dance, um, but they're like, oh, it was math. Okay. And, um, so I'm, I'm hoping to not know where this is going, but to keep working.
Tracey: 12:43 Well thank you both very much for being here today. I enjoyed talking with you about math and dance. We've been speaking with Tye Lidman, assistant professor of mathematics at NC state, and Michelle Pearson, artistic director of black box dance theater. I'm Tracey Peake. Thank you so much for listening to audio abstract.