Friday, 11 July 2014

Maths in Dance - Corey Herbert

Corey Herbert - photo by James Braund

An Interview with Corey Herbert

Corey was born in Melbourne, and began dance classes at the age of seven. She studied at the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School and at The Australian Ballet School. She toured with The Dancers Company in 2013, and joined The Australian Ballet in 2014. As a final-year student at The Australian Ballet School, Corey danced as part of the swan corps in The Australian Ballet’s Brisbane season of Stephen Baynes’ Swan Lake.  

Corey kindly agreed to answer some questions about how mathematics relates to her art as a dancer in the Australian Ballet.

The Questions and Answers

1. Describe what math lessons were like for you at school.

I was always better at maths than English at school, I enjoyed solving problems and working with numbers. I advanced early into algebra in my final year of primary school and always enjoyed the advanced maths classes from year 7 - 10.

2. When you left school, did you expect to be using any of the math that you were taught ever again?

I always knew that I would need basic maths in everyday life. I must admit I would not be able to tell you how algebra or any of those harder equations work anymore, as I haven't needed to use them. Obviously simple maths is handy when dealing with money and those sorts of things, but there is also a lot of mathematics in dancing. Although we don't necessarily always think mathematically in our minds when we are dancing or on stage the math elements are still there.

3. Do you divide dances or movements into parts or sections that might be expressed as mathematical fractions?

During performances we always have intervals. A ballet might be split into two halves or three thirds depending what work you’re doing. In each section I will usually be aware of how many times I enter the stage. Say I enter three times I will think about each third of the ballet separately. The stage is also set with marks in eights. The red marks usually represent the quarters so you can find centre or be on quarter mark on stage. The green marks are then your eights. These marks help us stay in line.

4. How aware are you of angles in your technique – angle of body, angle of arms and legs, angle of movements?

In ballet we often refer to our line of leg through angles. Certain steps require us to lift our leg to a certain height. Eg grand battement is referred to 90 degrees and above (creating a 90 degree angle between the legs . Jete is 45 degrees off the floor. If in a certain ballet the choreographer wants the arabesque (leg lifted being body) going straight across at a right angle they will asks the dances to have their legs at ninety degrees.

5. When you are moving in a performance, how much is “mathematical thinking and calculating where the space is” and how much is “feel for the space”?

When we are on stage we do use the quarter and eighth marks on stage to place ourselves. But as a dancer you are not always able to see the marks or you won’t be on a specific mark so you have to be very spatially aware of your movements and consider where everyone is around you. Being part of the Corps De Ballet it is extremely important to stay in line and be aware of those around you. I do this more by having a feel for the space and the people more so than thinking mathematically.

6. Is estimation good enough or do you rely on accurate measurement of distances and times?

Our movements aren't specifically measured. Unless we have a certain mark on the stage we have to travel to and from with a certain amount of steps our movement otherwise is quite free. We just have to be aware of travelling in the space we are in. Travel and measurements of the ballets will always depend what theatre we are performing in as some stages are smaller than others. In this case our length of travelling and movement will differ.

7. How aware are you of timing and beat when you are dancing? 

As a dancer timing and dancing on the music is crucial. When we are taught a ballet each movement is set on a specific count. In ballet we usually count 1-8 or 1-16 but obviously this can vary.

8. Have your teachers or choreographers ever used math and physics to explain your technique?

When we are being taught choreography finding patterns in our counts of music helps a lot. Eg we could be holding a pose on the side for 2 sets of 8 counts and a four, and then dancing for 4 sets of 8 counts and a 6 before pose again. Recognising these sorts of patterns in the music help us to learn the choreography. As dancers we are also very aware of the space around us and the shapes and dimensions we form and create within the space.

9. Do you look at statistics much to analyse your training and performance?

I personally don't refer to statistics to analyse my training, but I'm sure a lot of the medical staff would. Statistics would be very relevant towards injury prevention amongst our physios and strengthening team.

10. Do you have any other insights to offer into how you use mathematics in dance?

With all our Pilates and strength training, we need to be particular with the amount of weight/resistance we use as we want this to benefit our dancing and not our physical shape.

Thank you Corey for your answers and comments about maths in dance. Your insights are greatly appreciated!

 Photo by Luis Ferreiro

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