STEM from Dance offers the tools that build the girls’ confidence, nourish their creativity and provide a comfortable foundation to get them curious about STEM.

Photo courtesy STEM from Dance

Using dance to teach girls science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) sounds like quite an unusual approach. According to Yamilee Toussaint, however, it is the perfect match. In 2011, she launched STEM from Dance, a program that introduces girls of color to the basic principles of software development, electrical engineering as well as choreography with the hope to inspire them to pursue STEM education and careers.

Toussaint feels a passion for both disciplines. Not only has she been an avid dancer for over 20 years, she has also pursued a career in STEM, graduating from MIT with a degree in mechanical engineering. She grew up with the belief that she could be anything she wanted to be. When she entered the field of STEM as a professional, however, she saw that not everybody may have been given that belief. She realized how underrepresented people of color, particularly women, were in the sector. And she wondered why. 

“I realized that one of the big challenges that we (women of color) often have is a lack of confidence. I thought: ‘How do you convince girls, girls of color, that they can be successful in STEM?’” Toussaint explained. “When I was thinking about the role that dance has played in my life, how great I feel when I’m dancing, it made me wonder if there’s a way that that sense of empowerment and joy that you get from dance can be translated into the field of STEM education.”

Photo courtesy STEM from Dance

She decided to put that thought to the test, founded STEM from Dance and took her program to schools and community centers all over the city, teaching girls not only choreography but also showing them how to incorporate technology in their performances. As part of the program, girls are equipped with skills to create computer graphics that can be projected onto the stage during performances, costumes with programmable lights or sound effects. Dance is thereby the tool that builds their confidence, nourishes their creativity and provides a comfortable foundation to get them curious about STEM.

“We need programmers, scientists and engineers who not only have the skillsets but also who are diverse. Who can think creatively and can work well with others,” said Toussaint. “And with our programs, we give our students the space to grow in both. And thereby, I think, we end up with STEM professionals who are more equipped to solve our world’s problems.”

Since its beginning seven years ago, the program has expanded to 15 schools citywide, touching more than 400 girls. This summer, STEM from Dance launches its inaugural Girls Rise Up summer dance camp, taking place from July 9 to July 20, at the Bishop Loughlin High School in Fort Greene. The camp is open to girls ages 12 to 17 and will be in session daily from 9:30am to 3:00pm.

During the camp, the girls will learn how to code, construct circuits, create movement, think creatively and work in teams. They will be introduced to the principles of programming, engineering and choreography, to then develop a performance that incorporates all of these elements. To set the tone each morning, the participants get to meet guest teachers, mostly women of color in STEM, who will share their personal professional experiences and the many possibilities within the field. Then, the girls will meet in small groups to either to work on their tech projects or their choreographies. On the final day of camp on July 20, the girls get to perform the tech-infused routines they have created in a group showcase, as well as exhibit and discuss the tech aspects of the routines.

“After these two weeks, we hope that the girls see themselves differently, that they have grown their confidence. That they have a deeper understanding of what STEM is, what it looks like to pursue it as a career, that they feel inspired to go into that direction,” said Toussaint. “And also that they will be walking away with real tangible skills: The hard skills from STEM as well as personal soft skills they learn from the collaboration with others.”

Girls who are interested in the camp can apply as a few spots are still open. The two-week long Girls Rise Up summer camp 2018 costs $350; scholarships are available. For more details and to apply, go here.

The public is cordially invited to attend the end-of-camp showcase on July 20, 6:00pm, at the Bishop Loughlin High School, located at 357 Clermont Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238.


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