What do coding and dancing have in common? These Philly students are taking the class to find out
Of all the extracurricular activities for teens, dancing and programming are becoming increasingly common. But have you ever seen a class that combines both?
The West Park Cultural Center trains the mind and body of adolescent girls with its danceLogic class on Saturday afternoons. The program launched in 2018 in collaboration with longtime technologist Franklyn Athias.
Athias, the recently retired Comcast Cable SVP of networking and communications, and Devon Gooden, a computer programmer at consulting firm RandStad, are the current programming teachers, while Cameron Bridgers and Natasha S. Truitt are dancers and dance teachers for the class.
The combination of programming and dance aims to bridge gaps in student interests, said Jerry Puryear, West Park Cultural Center program manager. For example, if a student is interested in dance but not in programming, the dance class gets them in the door, and then they are introduced to programming.
“How do we make coding relevant and how do we emphasize that through dance?” Puryear told Technical.ly.
Part of the program’s mission is to promote STEM skills and awareness of future opportunities in the field. This reporter visited the class on a brisk fall afternoon in November to see exactly what these students were learning.
The program started at 12.00 with some quiet time for journaling. Bridgers said students are asked to reflect on their dancing and themselves each week.
The one-hour and 20-minute dance class began with a group warm-up, then the students rehearsed dances they had choreographed in a previous class and performed them for the group. They split into two groups to each choreograph a new dance for the other group, and write down their choreography in code language to signal when to move left, right, front, and back. At the end of the session, both groups performed.
After a short break, the students headed downstairs for a one-hour programming class that focused on Apple’s Swift programming language. They used iPads to work on various chapters in Swift’s Playground program, in which the player uses basic commands, for-loops, and if statements to make a character move through the video game world to collect gems to collect.
“Kids can use basic commands and move a character forward and backward to collect gems and toggle switches,” Gooden said, “but it actually teaches them programming because they’re familiar with the actual programming code and commands.” click to move the character around the different environments.”
The coding and dance lecturers meet before the semester starts and work together to ensure that the students do well in both subjects.
Iliana, 10, is attending danceLogic in her first year. She told Technical.ly that she had taken dance classes before but had never tried coding. She enjoys both subjects equally, “because when you dance, it’s fun because you can do it with partners, and programming is like a video game.” Meanwhile, Kayden, 10, said she likes the dance part of the program better because she prefers it stands up and moves than sitting and looking at an iPad.
This dual program helps students think logically and creatively, and helps them understand the technology they use in their daily lives, Gooden said. This exposure opens more doors for students to get interested in math and programming, potentially leading to a job in those fields.
The connection between this unlikely pairing is that dance requires physical choreography while coding uses logical choreography.
“I think for them to learn to dance and then learn to code is a really great way to show logic to what was going on. And they’re both beautiful,” Gooden said. “Your choreography is spot on. Math and programming, they are precise. Your coding needs to be spot on for the character to move into the right spot and do what it’s instructed to do.”
The coding teacher said he would love it if every student went on to become a computer programmer, but if they don’t, he still wants each student to experience a different way of thinking. The “logical” thinking they learn in a programming class could help them solve problems later in life: “By the end of the semester, you’ll see that they’re getting better and better,” Gooden said. “danceLogic with coding is really, really great for exposing them to a different mindset.”
Rhaiden, 11, has been attending danceLogic for about two years. She told Technical.ly that she had programming experience before taking classes, and some of her experience comes from her father, who is a computer teacher. From this program she learned that programming is connected to all the technologies that people use on a daily basis. She wanted to be a math teacher when she grew up, but she’s not sure anymore. Regardless, her experience of helping other girls in the class reinforced her desire to go into a field that helps people.
Gooden has seen previous students learn more programming skills and even return to help teach the class.
“One of the biggest issues is not being exposed to STEM as a potential future career,” he said. At danceLogic, “underprivileged children are exposed to a different opportunity to not only make money later in life, but are simply exposed to a different environment where they can actually sit down and write a game instead of just playing a game.”
The class is officially open to girls ages 10 to 16, but Puryear said they want to remain flexible with age and are open to slightly younger and slightly older girls as well.
The fall semester of the program began in October. Applications are currently possible again for the spring semester from January. At the end of the program in June, students have the opportunity to perform at the West Park Arts Fest. The tuition for the semester, which runs January through June, is $75, but there is an opportunity to apply for a scholarship upon application. Puryear said the organization is willing to work with families to make tuition more affordable and accessible for them.
Puryear’s goal for this program is for students to feel empowered and confident.
“We can create that safe space in this uncertain world, and we can take these ladies and give them a platform and empower them by giving them knowledge about something that’s valuable in this world,” he said. “They can just be confident in themselves and let someone who believes in them feed them.”
This includes believing in yourself.
Kasey, 10, had never taken a dance class or coding class but signed up because she loved dancing at home. She said she would definitely consider pursuing both subjects in the future.
“I’ve learned that it’s not about what you think you’re good at. It’s about what you know you’re good at,” she said. “If you have one thing going and you know the other thing is going to be more difficult, just try and just believe in yourself.”
Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the Groundtruth Project that connects young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.