Mathematics in Motion: Math professor Evans Harrell and his team use the art of dance to engage with audiences

Photo Credit: BERDOLÉ Flamenco Production and Management
A dancer wears a blue tank top and black leggings with her brown hair braided back into a curly, low ponytail. Her arms are stacked together on one side, as she moves one leg in front of the other. One other dancer and Harrell stand behind her, and more than a dozen audience members sit in front of her to the right side of the frame.

March 15, 2023
Volume 4 Issue 2
By: Olivia Subero

Most people would not imagine combining mathematics and science with the arts. The idea of combining multiple contrasting subjects seems almost impossible — not for Professor Evans Harrell and his company, Mathematics in Motion, though.

Harrell and the late dance choreographer Kristel Rose Tedesco founded Mathematics in Motion in 2016. This company was a collaboration of creative minds and scholars. By combining their research and expertise, Harrell’s goal was to create innovative ways to introduce and immerse audiences into the world of math and science.

“I decided that people can learn about science in an active way, with the help of circus actors,” Harrell says. “Because there’s a lot of good physics and mathematics, actually, behind circumstance.”

Photo Courtesy of Evans Harrell
Harrell is facing the camera while standing in front of a blue doorway. He is wearing a striped blue and white dress shirt and a black shirt underneath.

Mathematics in Motion planted its roots via the Atlanta Science Festival. According to Harrell, the Atlanta Science Festival was “active, immersive science, fun science and communicating science and the reason for it to the world.” As Georgia Tech‘s associate dean of research, Harrell has represented the university since 2014, but he wanted to create more of an impact. Georgia Tech’s previous presentations had nothing to do with dance, and Harrell himself was not very knowledgeable in dance.

With this idea in mind, Harrell, Tedesco and their team started brainstorming ways to combine circus performances with science and physics. Tedesco’s connections as a dancer helped her connect with local performers to bring this concept to life. Then, for the 2016 Atlanta Film Festival, Harrell and Tedesco’s team debuted with their first performance, “Science of the Circus,” where physics was translated into a series of captivating dance sequences.

The show was a unique, never-before-seen concept and, therefore, an instant hit. Audiences requested more, ready to return next year for another performance. Despite its more physics-based show concept, Mathematics in Motion was on the right track. It was gaining notoriety. Harrell had found something that worked, but his specialty was math. As an educator, he wanted to craft more performances around his discipline, something that could help math stand out more to the public.

“The chemist always has explosions and bright colors, so they can [demonstrate] that thing,” he says. “We don’t have a lot of explosions in math.”

Throughout 2017 and 2018, Mathematics in Motion expanded its dance show roster. They began branching out, but could only book small venues due to limited notoriety outside the Atlanta Science Festival. Their hard work paid off with their newest creation, “The Seven Bridges of Königsberg,” based on a famous math problem from the 18th century.

Photo Courtesy of Evans Harrell
Evans Harrell is dressed in a black t-shirt and pants and has white hair. He is standing in a field of lush green grass, with a group of young adults who are dressed similarly and stand in a loosely-shaped line. They are looking off to their right-hand side. Kristel Rose Tedesco stands to their right, on the end of the line, wearing a black dress hemmed above her knee. She is smiling as she holds a microphone and looks toward the camera.

Tedesco’s dancers perfectly captured Harrell’s educational vision. Combined with an original score from Georgia Tech’s symphony orchestra, her choreography immersed itself in mathematical history while highlighting his explanation of Leonard Euler’s network theory, an essential piece to the evolution of modern-day networks. This showing was yet another crowd pleaser, and the company found itself moving to bigger and bigger venues.

Since then, Mathematics in Motion has continued to flourish, collaborating with more dancers, orchestras and even students around the metro Atlanta area. Now an established nonprofit since 2018, the company has received funding from programs such as the prestigious Science in Vivo, the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Sciences and the Julia Robinson Mathematics Festival. They had other collaborative events, such as Mathapalooza!, an immersive math experience scheduled for the following year. But even with its growing success, Mathematics in Motion had its challenges.

Photo Credit: DayLillies Photography
Kristel Rose Tedesco is dressed in black pants and a sleeveless black t-shirt, which boldly contrast the light beige and brick wall behind her. Standing on a wide, off-white sidewalk outside, she twists her body so that we see three-quarters of her face and her entire back. Her arms are extended to the side. Her eyes are closed and she has a faint smile. The sun shines through her swaying blonde hair. In her twist, one leg is anchored with her full foot on the ground and just the toe of her other foot touches the ground. Her red high-top sneakers draw the eye to the ground.

In January 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic spread worldwide, Mathematics in Motion tragically lost its co-founder and creative director. Tedesco’s passion for dancing was never lost, and to keep her legacy alive, her parents opened a nonprofit with all donations going straight to Mathematics in Motion.

“We decided that the best way to remember [her] would be to use [the donations] to support the interaction of arts with science, in particular math,” Harrell says.

With the donations, Mathematics in Motion created two scholarships: The General Fund assists with event planning and provides job opportunities for Altanta-based artists. At the same time, the Kristel Rose Tedesco Scholarship Fund helps aspiring dance students through the Neighborhood Ballet. The scholarships provide a way to give back to the community that Tedesco put so much time and love into.

Post-pandemic, Mathematics in Motion grappled to regain a sense of normalcy. The company was forced to cancel the highly anticipated Mathapalooza! in 2020 and move it to a virtual platform in 2021. Harrell has continued to work with his team at Mathematics in Motion, continuously crafting new ideas to keep his audience engaged. The method does not matter as long as they learn and have fun with it.

Photo Credit: Bhakti Seva Art
Irene Donahue wears a blue long-sleeved undershirt with a white T-shirt on top displaying “Mathapalooza!” in bold orange letters. She is interacting with a child at the 2021 Mathapalooza! event. The child sports a white, long-sleeved shirt with pops of pink, purple and cream and has her hair pulled up in a high bun.

“People have different learning styles,” Harrell says. “The classic learning-intensive intellectual focus works for me, but it doesn’t work for everybody.”

Harrell believes there is beauty in math, and he and his team at Mathematics in Motion have found a more artistic way of approaching it. They have found a happy medium that engages learners of all ages. From the interactive Mathapalooza! to the colorful dance sequences in “The Seven Bridges of Königsberg,” Mathematics in Motion has captured its audiences for years and years to come.

The company has been quite active, participating in multiple events around metro Atlanta. On February 11, in partnership with the Fulton County Schools and the Julie Robinson Mathematics Festival, Mathematics in Motion hosted Night at the Teaching Museum, which included interactive educational activities, a magic show and entertainment. Mathematics in Motion will return with another Mathapalooza! at the Atlanta Science Festival on March 18.

To learn more about Mathematics in Motion, you can check out their website or follow their social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Courtesy of Olivia Subero
Olivia Subero is posing with her violin and bow in hand. She’s wearing a long-sleeved black shirt and has her hair pulled back as she smiles for the camera.

Olivia Subero is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and editor. With three years of writing and editing experience, she also has about two years of freelance writing experience. During her college years, she has worked with businesses and entrepreneurs to create website content, with article writing as her specialty. Olivia’s writing is featured in online publications such as Comic Book Resources, Visionary Artistry Magazine, and The Peak. She has written and edited pieces ranging from indie musicians to “Top 10” lists; some are even educational, like her “9 Common Japanese Honorifics in Anime, Explained.”

Her love of writing started in childhood, just after learning to read. English was her favorite subject in school, and she loved reading all kinds of literature, from biographies to folktales. Olivia graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Kennesaw State University with two minors in Professional Writing and Japanese. Currently, she is pursuing her Master’s degree in Professional Writing with concentrations in Creative Writing and Rhetoric and Composition. She is also studying to become a professor.

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