Category Archives: Fun Stuff

How Much Is a Million? 's best friend

How Much Is a Million?'s Best Friend

My friend Merri Rudd, a contra dance caller from Albuquerque, sent me this picture. Some of you “dog people” might like it — and who knows, maybe it will inspire some folks to love the book as much as LuckyDog does. (More about Merri and LuckyDog)

Since I mentioned that Merri is a contra dance caller, I should say that I am an avid contra dancer. I can hear you asking, “What is contra dance?” I could answer, “It’s a bit like square dance except that it’s done in lines instead of squares,” but that wouldn’t be a very satisfying explanation because contra dancing is really VERY different from square dancing and not just because of the geometry. Contra dancers get asked about their dance form so often that some have posted definitions and explanations on the web. Here’s a site with several long and one short explanation.

But no collection of words can really explain a dance form, and words certainly can’t capture the terrific music (which is always live at contra dances), so why don’t you just come out and join me on the dance floor?! Most contra dances are kid-friendly, though they are not usually kid-oriented. More about dances in your area.

Now… did you think I was going to sign off without a math connection? Contra dance abounds with “math moments.” Here is one I just experienced at “Labor Day Dance Away,” a fabulous weekend of dancing that took place in the San Bernardino Mountains of southern California. In a contra dance, the dancers start out standing in lines, but as they move through different figures the geometry changes. In one of the dances last weekend, groups of four dancers formed circles, and our caller, Cis Hinkle from Atlanta, told us to rotate the circle to the left “three-quarters of the way around and a little bit more.” What a delightful, kinesthetic way for a child to learn fractions, I thought to myself. I can just imagine the discussion that might grow out of a question like, “What fraction is a little bit more than three-quarters of the way around but still less than all the way around?” A contra dancer I know, Bernie Scanlon, a math instructor at Bakersfield College, gives workshops for teachers in using dance to teach math. And check out this Science News article for another take on the math-contra dance connection.

See you on the dance floor!