Florida Poly engineering students add a new dimension to dance

Apr 29, 2020
Jaimie Davis
Jaimie Davis, an electrical engineering student at Florida Polytechnic University, monitors biosensor data generated by the movements of Florida Dance Theatre dancer Katrina Ogden in early March.

A team of Florida Polytechnic University students is using technology to convert the beauty and grace of dance into an innovative, stunning work of art.

Junior Jaimie Davis and 2020 master’s graduate Matthew Giallourakis are collaborating with Florida Dance Theatre to transform dancers’ movements into digital art.

“We wanted to take the arts and STEM and combine them in this amazing way,” said Davis, an electrical engineering student from Fort Myers, Florida. “It’s become more than I ever thought it could be.”

Davis sewed lightweight biosensors into sleeves for a dancer’s arm. The sensors collect biometric data such as acceleration, muscle activity, and cardiovascular activity. The data is then transmitted to Davis’ computer where they’re displayed as line tracings, similar to the waves on an electrocardiogram display. They spike and dip wildly depending on the dancer’s movements.

The data is immediately processed by Giallourakis and converted in real time into colorful, intricate fractals that can be projected onto a nearby screen.

“Fractals are already known for being a good combination of art and science, so I thought it was a perfect medium for taking an artform, processing it into scientific data, and bringing it back into another form of art,” said Giallourakis, who is completing his master’s degree in electrical engineering.

Giallourakis said the data itself is beautiful.

“Just seeing the correspondence between what the dancers are doing and what Jaimie is plotting is wonderful because you can see the dancer twirl and you can see those actions in the data,” he said. “They’re making the data dance.”

The effort stemmed from a discussion between Jermaine Thornton, the executive director at Florida Dance Theatre, and Victoria Lowe, adjunct professor of art appreciation at Florida Poly.

“One of my goals is that we would not only be known as a place for arts, entertainment, and education,” Thornton said. “We want to show it’s OK if we start tapping into things like science, technology, engineering, and math.”

The project was funded by a state grant to Florida Dance Theatre. Project organizers planned to unveil it during a demonstration in March and a performance in June, but COVID-19 restrictions have postponed the events. Thornton said the project will eventually be converted into a lecture-demonstration for students in Polk County Schools.

Giallourakis, of Palm Harbor, Florida, said this experience has allowed him to combine his two passions: art and engineering.

“It was a hard decision as to whether I should be going to engineering school or art school, and I’m glad I went to Florida Poly,” said Giallourakis, who also earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the school. “The University has been very supportive of all the stuff I do outside of engineering and the faculty really like to see what I come up with on my own.”

Lydia Guzman
Director of Communications