Tech with a twist: Innovative youth program combines coding and dance

Innovative program combines coding and dance

In our series, A More Perfect Union, we aim to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, "CBS This Morning" national correspondent Jericka Duncan introduces us to a corporate executive who spends his Saturdays teaching technology with a twist.


Numbers, stats and creativity are all integral parts of choreography — but they're vital for coding, too. That's the idea behind danceLogic, a program in Philadelphia that integrates dance and computer programming for 13 to 17-year-old girls.

"With dancing, you have to look at the steps and figure out how do they fit into one another. Same with coding," said 14-year-old Nailah Shabazz, adding "basically, if I see myself coding and helping others, I think I can also bring in other people who look like me, to also want to pursue that field."

For 14-year-old Lauryn Dorsett, the dancing part came easy – the coding, not so much. "The coding part is sorta hard at first when you think about it," Dorsett said. "But once you really grow into it, and stay with it for a while, it starts to get easier."

When she realized how much money she could potentially make with the skills, Dorsett said, she was even more intrigued. "Not all fields offer the same type of opportunities," she said. "You can get far with this."

Franklyn Athias believes that opportunity is everything. While working as a senior vice president at Comcast, Athias started danceLogic in 2018.

Originally, Athias only planned to focus on coding – but "he had trouble getting [kids] to participate," according to his friend and co-founder Betty Lindley.

Lindley, who runs a cultural center, suggested he incorporate dance.

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Girls at danceLogic learn their moves. CBS News

"Coding alone doesn't bring the hook," Athias said. But Lindley's plan worked. "The dance was getting them to come back to the class," he said.  
 
Athias wants people who might be intimidated by the math and science behind coding to understand that it's like any other skill. "It's always hard in the beginning," he said. "This is why the dance part is so important, because a lot of young ladies came in and could not dance. But they practice."

That's what happened with Shabazz, who said she "inherited two left feet" from her father. "If I have the confidence to dance in front of a bunch of people and not be afraid of making mistakes, then I have the confidence […] to accomplish whatever goals I have in life," she said.
 
"Something they thought was hard now became easy, right?" Athias said. "And it was all because of practice. It wasn't anything else besides, 'let's try it, let's get it wrong, let's try it again and then boom.' The smile comes on your face and say, 'I got it, Mr. Franklyn.' When that happens, he said, "the world is theirs."

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DanceLogic hopes to teach girls aged 13 to 17 about dance and coding . CBS News

According to the Pew Research Center, women hold just 25% of computer-related occupations in the U.S. New research projects that number could fall to 22% by 2025.

Athias wants danceLogic to help give back to the community. "I came from a very rough neighborhood, . and someone introduced me to something that kept me out of trouble," he said. "If I can help motivate some other person to do the same thing […] that's the reward I get outta this.

When the girls finish the 14-week program, they're rewarded too. Athias gives them iPads, so they can keep coding – he has no doubt they'll keep dancing.  

DanceLogic costs $50 total for the 14 weeks. The West Park Cultural Center, which runs the program, says it will never turn away anyone who can't afford the cost. The center offers scholarships, too.