OPEN STREEETS!!!! Open streets is a summer activity in my neighborhood where they clothes the streets for child-friendly activities, and grown-up beverage consumption. This inaugural event had a performance from the band Brass Queens, the crosswalk outside our cupcake shop transformed into a full on dance party.  People of all ages were getting down. Even I got out there, unfortunately hurting my knee in the process. This post isn’t about me being injured, however, it was what was going on in the child dance section.

My kindergartner was dancing around with about 5 of my friends, but I was curious about the deliberateness that another girl applied to dancing. This 4th-5th grader was doing something that I see lots of kids doing at weddings and other dancing events. As the crowd around moves and grooves spontaneously songs, this kid was stayed in one certain spot, immune to the rhythem, cycling methodically through selections of the fortnite dance moves (emotes?). You’ll see kids do the floss, then do the dance move with their hands and knees going back and forth, and then back to then floss again. Allday. It was hard to not contrast the Fortnite approach the with group of kindergartners that my daughter was a part of. They went from trying to coordinate some kind of congaline, then ran to a different part of the floor, then followed along what the band was doing. They broke into groups, then got back together. They’d all mimic one persons thing, then all go do their own solo thing. Izzy begged me to pick her up, then ran away as I grimaced while grabbing my knee. But, again, this isn’t about me being injured, it’s about thinking.

Dancing, for me at least, isn’t about thinking. It’s kind of a spontaneous space where in you look to see just what you and the people around you can do with the beat and the melody that you’re being given. It’s not a time for strategy, or practice. This is what it seems like for my kindergartner. She’ll frequently have dance parties in the house that feature only fresh, unrehearsed moves or move combination. These dance parties don’t require recalling a sequence of moves that she learned earlier, pausing awkwardly upon finishing, and starting into another shortly after as if the music wasn’t related to her movements. These dance parties connect to a primal part of what it means to be human, and might resemble what our ancestors were doing around a campfire a few short millenia ago.

One of the girls with my daugther was from her ballet class. In class she is learning very specific movements like plie, releve, and arabesque and will give us formal descriptons of each. There is a focus on reproducing the moves correctly, and a whole larger context that these moves live in. Spontaneity and creativity don’t mesh with these formal sessions, at least not at first.

As my daughter ran into the dance party with this brass band with her friends, the group would casually break out moves they learned from ballet. The training from ballet gave my daughter a new set of skills that she could call on intuitively whenever the moment came on the dance floor. It wasn’t part of a rehearsed sequence. It was fluid. The ability to flow into and out of these dance moves while being in the moment seemed starkly different than seeing the Fortnite girl carrying out one full procedure after another. Because the moves also became part of her natural movement, it seems likely that my daughter would be able to retain these moves. She’ll probably flow into her ballet moves when she has kids of her own, and subsequently injures her knee on the dance floor while trying to pick up her 53 pound daughter like an idiot. But, seriously, this piece isn’t about me. It’s really about math.

Solving a problem is a natural and spontaneous thing. Students and adults figure out problems, craft approaches to find a solution, and verify their work constantly through life. For example, figuring out how many ice cubes to put in the ice pack, how much Aleve to take, what angle of elevation relieves swelling in your leg are all problems people must solve. When we see these problems we go about solving them as spontaneously as we do dancing at a dance party. As we learn math, however, that math knowledge can flow into the problem solving naturally. We won’t just carry out procedures regardless of what the problem entails, like the Fortnite approach. We’re not just going to try and throw any quantities we find into a proportion, for instance. The math we learn is to augment our primal natural problem solving process with new, fancier capabilities so you can flow into and out of different strategies as the situation demands. After my daughter started ballet the spontaneous dance parties were markedly more graceful, and powerful. Hopefully my math students will be able to have graceful and powerful problem solving skills after my class, whether they are facing subtaction, proportions, exams, or even the problem of finding an orthopedist that takes their insurance.