Overview: High school lesson connecting engineering and dance using the design process.

This is the third installment of the Studio STEAM-up Series!  Each week we will explore arts integrated lessons connecting dance to the STEAM subjects.  This week is Engineering and Dance!  I must admit, as I began the research for this article I ran into quite a struggle.  I could not find engineering standards devoted solely to engineering and dance.  Maybe that’s because there aren’t many “engineering” classes in K12, but rather an infusing of engineering into other subjects.

The Next Generation Science standards have engineering expectations embedded. Also, the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association provides curriculum for engineering. However, engineering in and of itself in the K12 sector was no where to be found.  So for this installment, we will look at the embedded engineering standards and focus on the engineering and dance design process.


Next Generation Science
International Technology and Engineering Educators Association

Lesson Seeds

The most exciting connection I found between dance and engineering is the overlap of the engineering design process and the composition process.  There are a couple different process outlines out there, but they all revolve around the same principles of Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Improve.  These pair nicely with the choreographic process of Inspiration, Explore, Plan, Create, and Revise. Any time we are composing movement for an audience, we are essentially engineering and dance.

Engineering as Inspiration

The Next Gen standards offer a road map of engineering practices. For example, defining and delimiting engineering problems, developing possible solutions, and optimizing the design solution.  This can be a great starting point for movement and can be used as inspiration or as a blueprint for choreography.   As inspiration, have students research a global issue (clean water, pollution, famine) and use that as the theme of their movement. Furthermore, begin with movement phrases that showcase the problem at hand.  As the piece progresses, build phrases to show possible solutions. Then, complete the performance with the chosen solution to the problem.

Engineering as a Blueprint

The engineering and dance process can also be used as a blueprint for composition.  For instance, as students work with movement, composing phrases, and designing their pieces, refer to the engineering process. Then, using engineering design language as a foundation for revision.  Once students have created their movement, have them perform it for the class.  Further, have the class present a problem they see within the choreography, and then have the choreographer  go back to the drawing board. Then, decide on possible solutions to the problem, and then improve the piece by employing one of the solutions.  This can be a larger class effort by having the choreographer present the piece and then discuss a problem they have encountered in the choreography.  Moreover, allow the class to offer multiple solutions to the problem, and then have the choreographer choose one solution to revise the composition.

Lesson Plan

This lesson can be used in multiple ways.  To begin, it is a great culmination project and an even better senior project. Students can tap into the foundations they have learned over four years to create their final proposal.  It can also be as close or far reaching as you would like.  Propose the question “how can dance impact our community/our world” and invite all solutions.  This can involve immediate charity events such as dance-a-thons, larger community projects such as free dance classes, or global solutions such as using lessons from costume design to teach members of a tribe to sew.  No solution is too far-fetched, encourage students to think as big as they want.

I have used this as a senior project which resulted in a arts collaborative that is now in it’s 5th year.  One of my 2010 seniors proposed a Day of the Arts, where children from the community can enjoy a full day where they carousel through the various arts programs we offer and the day culminates in performances for their families.  My 2010 dancers decided they liked this proposal so much that they wanted to make it a reality.  It is completely student produced where the leaders of the arts disciples all come together to plan and create the Day of the Arts each year.

My students have also experienced this globally.  In 2010 we partnered with Movement Exchange (then, Dance Bridges), a non profit organization that brings dance diplomats into the orphanages of Panama to teach dance to children and produce a show in the city’s national theater.  The program has volunteered almost 7000 hours of service and the sustainability of year-round dance programs in Panama.  Movement Exchange has recently expanded to India as well.  All stemming from one dancers dream of taking dance global.  Here’s more information about Movement Exchange.


There are many opportunities connect the design process of engineering to the design process of choreography.   If you have an engineering lesson you would like to integrate with dance, or if you try one of these here please drop me a comment below or email me at [email protected], I would love to hear about it!

Piquès & Pirouettès