(March 31, 2016) -- Kalpana Iyengar, a lecturer with the UTSA Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching and researcher with the San Antonio Writing Project (SAWP), explores the use of classic Indian dance to teach geometry and other math concepts to Asian Indian-American schoolchildren in a recent study published in the Journal of Fine and Art Studio.
“For so long, dance has been regarded as solely an aesthetic experience, an entertaining work of art,” Iyengar said. “But history demonstrates that dance can be useful beyond that. In this case, I wanted to see how culturally relevant dance could help Asian Indian students better grasp basic shapes and learn concepts common to both mathematics and dance.”
Iyengar studied the idea using classical Indian dance known as Bharatanatyam, which is often characterized by its use of stylized, schematic body movements and sculpture-like poses. Bharatanatyam dancers use poses and movement to convey ancient Indian stories from the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata.
In recent years, Bharatanatyam has become popular among Asian Indian-American families as a medium for children to connect to their cultural heritage and roots. Iyengar was inspired to pursue the research after watching her daughterGowri practice Bharatanatyam at a local performing arts center.
“Bharatanatyam dancers often create basic geometric shapes – like the line, square, rectangle or triangle – with their bodies to tell their stories,” Iyengar said. “After all, these basic shapes have long been how we visually represent the world around us. The repetition of these shapes helps cement the elements of geometry in our minds.”
Over the course of a few months, Iyengar worked with Asian Indian-American students of various school ages in three major cities in the Southwestern U.S. Some students had first-hand knowledge of Bharatanatyam; others had none. Each participant was shown Bharatanatyam performances, such as Savitha Shastry’s “Bharatanatyam Jathi,” and instructed to answer several questions relating to geometry, their experience and the performances themselves.
“I found that students were more readily comprehending the lessons when they learned them through a lens that is familiar and contextual to their home cultures,” Iyengar said. “The cultural aspect of this dance meant that they were more likely to be engaged and thus be more receptive to the lessons.”
Iyengar found that the children were drawn to the Bharatanatyam performances and were eager to name the shapes they saw during the performance. According to her, the older students more easily connected the commonalities between the mathematics concepts and the dances.
“I would like to conduct a similar study with a larger and more demographically diverse student population,” Iyengar said. “I also want to see whether this trend of student engagement is observable in other Western dance styles, such as ballet and hip hop.”
Iyengar has long been motivated to find new ways for Asian Indian-American children to engage with their culture in the classroom. She adds that curriculums in schools do not often find ways to connect Asian Indian students’ heritage to their studies, and there is a dearth of research into Asian Indian-American students and their learning habits in the classroom.
“I believe that, as educators in an increasingly multicultural society, it is important that we provide diverse students with opportunities to engage with their cultures and heritage,” Iyengar said. “The effects of such approaches can only be positive and beneficial to children’s psychological well-being.”
Iyengar is the founder and co-director of the Kahani Project, an annual event that SAWP hosts with the India Association of San Antonio. Now in its ninth year, the Kahani Project is designed to give Asian Indian students, aged from elementary to high school, an opportunity to write about their cultural heritage in public spaces. In 2015, she and faculty with COEHD helped create an affiliate of the San Antonio Writing Project in India titled the Haridwar Writing Porject.
By Jesus Chavez
Public Affairs Specialist
“Bharatanatyam and Mathematics: Teaching Geometry Through Dance” was published in the Journal of Fine and Studio Art, Vol. 5(2) pp. 6-17.
Learn more about the UTSA College of Education and Human Development.
The UTSA community welcomes students to their on-campus home! Laurel Village, Chaparral Village and Alvarez Hall are home for 2,300 students during the academic year, and Move-In event kicks off the start of Roadrunner Days.
Laurel Village, Chaparral Village, Alvarez Hall, Main Campus
The College of Engineering hosts this seminar featuring Jeff Adams, Southwest Zone Quality Manager, Siemens Building Technologies Division. The event is free and open to the public.
Engineering Building (EB 3.04.30), Main Campus
This is a terrific opportunity for incoming transfer students to network with staff that serve our veteran, non-traditional, and transferring students, as well as meet transfer peer mentors who can help answer questions about UTSA.
Main Building ground floor lobby, Main Campus
After a day full of moving and getting settled into their new UTSA home, students and their families can have some refreshments and snacks at the Welcome Back Reception. The event tops off with the premiere performance of the Spirit of San Antonio, UTSA's Marching Band.
University Center Paseo, Main Campus
Can you survive the library wilderness? As a part of Roadrunner Days, UTSA Libraries is hosting a mobile adventure for you to play and find out more about the library!
John Peace Library, 2nd floor, Main Campus
Come meet your UTSA Volleyball Team as they gear up for the 2017 season! The game begins at 5 p.m. then the team will hold an autograph and photo session after the game.
Convocation Center, Main Campus
This engaging discussion pulls back the covers on hooking up, clarifying when it’s actually sexual violence and how bystanders can protect potential victims from predators.
University Center, Retama Auditorium (UC 2.02.02), Main Campus
Late Night at the Rec is an awesome UTSA tradition that transforms a standard information session into an exciting night of fun. At this annual event, you’ll be able to learn about our facilities, recreation programs, and wellness services offered at Main and Downtown Campuses.
Recreation and Wellness Center, Main Campus
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.