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See a Data-Driven Contemporary Dance

No longer the terrain of math whizzes and number crunchers, data engineering has made its way onto the dance stage in Arlington, Virginia.

logo for Bowen McCauley Dance Co. in Arlington

Innovation In Modern Dance

Award-winning Bowen McCauley Dance Co. energizes audiences with inventive and vibrant choreography, combining contemporary and classical techniques set to a sweeping range of musical styles.


Its latest piece explores the intersection of dance and engineering mechanics as a viable medium for choreography. “Lissajous” was choreographed by affixing sensors to each dancer to record their movements. The digital data provided by the sensors influenced the creative process as Lucy Bowen McCauley choreographed the piece commissioned by Drexel University.

Traditionally, dance choreography is developed through a rigorous process of creating an initial plan, observing it performed by the dancers and then making adjustments, often using mirrors as guidance. However, this course of action changed for the choreography of “Lissajous.”

Circular Movement

Drexel University Engineering Professor Leslie Lamberson, Ph.D., along with two of her students, visited dancers at rehearsal to collect the data for the project whose underlying theme is that all movement comes back to some version of a circle. Jordan Key, Ph.D. in music composition at the University of Florida, wrote the music composition for “Lissajous,” working with the theme of circles, Pi, and their relationship to movement.

The data from the dancers’ movement was fed into a computer and used to generate a series of Lissajous figures — patterns produced by the intersection of two sinusoidal curves, the axes of which are at right angles to each other. McCauley then took those figures — what company dancer Justin Rustle called “reorganized presentations of the original movement” — and used them as choreographic inspiration for the rest of the work.

dance patterns representing movement in the Lissajous dance performance

Dance Studio In The Classroom

The dance company’s hope is to help audiences visualize the relationship between math and dance, McCauley said.

Besides the stage performance of “Lissajous,” Bowen McCauley Dance Co., in its 23rd season, also is offering area school children the chance to experience the joy of dance by creating a classroom experience of “Lissajous,” with Drexel’s Engineering department.

Interested in seeing “Lissajous” performed on stage, along with three other pieces, at Dance Place in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 8 or Dec. 9? You can purchase tickets now.

By Emily Kelly, marketing manager, Bowen McCauley Dance Co.