Connecting Dance and Mathematics in Primary School

Our DTI guest writer, Mia Hollingworth, makes choreographic connections between Mathematics and the work of choreographer Merce Cunningham.  These approachable and engaging activities are appropriate for a range of Primary aged dance classes.

dance and maths activity

Connecting Dance and Mathematics

By Mia Hollingworth

Mathematics is generally seen as a bunch of numbers and algorithms which is to be considered the polar opposite of dancing which is seen as an artistic endeavour. But when we take a closer look many similarities and connections begin to emerge.

What mathematics and dance have in common are the building of rhythms, shapes and patterns. In this article, there are ways to access mathematics for the movers in your midst and make dance more accessible for your mathematicians.  I think both are equally important.

Merce Cunningham and Dance Choreography by Chance

Let’s start with a quick biography and crash course refresher of the masterful Merce Cunningham.

Cunningham 1919 – 2009 was an American dancer and choreographer who was a pioneer of the American Modern Dance Movement. His collaborations and works had a profound influence on Art beyond the world of dance.

Merce Cunningham was always trying to find new and unique ways of crafting movement and became known for developing what’s called ‘choreography by chance’. This would involve rolling dice or tossing a coin to determine which movements were performed and how they were sequentially arranged.

Merce Cunningham’s legacy is being preserved and celebrated to this day with his choreographic methods and technique classes still being studied all around the world.

Disciplined-Based Learning in the Arts

In schools and dance studios, a usual method of choreographing a dance will more often than not be crafted around a piece of music.  This music choice will strongly influence the types of dance steps and style of movement for the purpose of a making a ‘product’.

Whereas, the ‘Chance Dance method puts the attention more squarely onto ‘process’ for the purpose of exploration and developing the imagination. This method of choreographing offers a self-directed experiential approach that has the capacity to generate unique and exciting outcomes.

Using chance devices such as dice or a coin to shape the sequencing of a dance work, provides a solid support structure for all abilities.  It also caters for a variety of learning styles within a dance context. For these reasons, it is a real confidence boost for those children who are inhibited to move their bodies or judge themselves as not being able to dance.

Other positive benefits include;

  • the possibility of extension depending on the skill level of your young or older dancers.
  • opportunities for students to work on solo tasks in small groups or as a whole class.
  • opens up new creative possibilities and develops the skills required to respond with an original dance work.
  • makes it easier for teachers to evaluate creativity and imagination in students.

Sample Space using Space – Time – Intensity as a guide

dance and Math activityDepending on the age of your learners, either create your own list or have students create a list of movements and assign them a number from 1-6.

Choose 2 alike or opposing tempos or (qualities) and assign them a heads/tails = TIME

Select 2 alike or opposing directions and assign them a heads/tails = SPACE

Have students roll and flip their chance devices and create a chart of movement possibilities.

Students will practice and recall their movement sequence as solos, or small group tasks and present these to the class.

These sequences can be further manipulated and developed as desired.


Movement 1-6

(this can be extended)

Heads = Quick

Tails = Slow

Heads = Change direction Tails = Travel
1.      A turn
2.      A jump
3.      A roll
4.      A crouch
5.      A travelling step
6.      Spirit fingers

dance and math activity

Merce and Math – Chance and Probability

What better way to introduce the Mathematical strand of Chance and Probability than to move your own body. This Cunningham ‘Chance Dance’ lesson combines the 2 learning areas; Statistics and Probability and Dance Composition. These could be taught as stand-alone lessons or, for full impact, I recommend teaching the Dance lesson first followed by the Math lesson.

Chance and Probability is a strand of Mathematics in the curriculum and may be introduced as early as Year 1. Students need to show understanding of being able to identify outcomes involving chance and be able to describe, represent and interpret this data.

Lesson Focus/Objectives:  Identify and describe possible outcomes. Plan methods of data collection and represent probabilities. Show evidence to justify answers.

Resources: Dice, Coins, Paper, Pencil.

Activate Student Schema:  Brainstorm language around topic area: What are the chances of something occurring; likely, unlikely, ½, 50% chance, probable, improbable?

Have students construct a table and record the data of their rolls and flips according to the parameters you the teacher have set in the sample space. See example above.

Teacher led questions:
Early years 2 – 4
  • What chance do you have of rolling the number 2?
  • What chance do you have of doing a jump?
  • What chance do you have of moving slow?
  • Slow Spirit fingers while travelling is one possible combination, what other combinations with Spirit fingers can there be?


dance and math activity
Years 5 – 7
  • How many different combinations / variations of choreography are possible?
  • How will you represent this data collection?
  • How do you know you have found them all?
  • What is the probability of dancing a turn, slow while travelling?

In conclusion, Merce and Math is a wonderful combination with which to approach these specific learning areas bringing an embodied learning experience into your home or school classroom.

Until learning is put into action new information is stored in our often-unreliable memory. But it is in the powerful relationship between the brain and the body that new information is encoded into our being allowing for a richer learning experience and deeper understanding. As the popular Chinese proverb says; “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I will I learn”.


DTI Guest Writer

Mia Hollingworth is an Australian educator, and performance artist.

After a dance performance career, Mia completed a Bachelor of Education and since moving to the Sunshine Coast

Since moving to the Sunshine Coast, she has been a grant recipient to create in Place2Play, 2020 and was the recipient of the Creative Spaces Artist in Residence in 2021. Mia is committed to dance advocacy through contributing to conversations, writing and education.

dance educator


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