Kick, Ball, Buzz

Math major and tap dancer Alissa LaFerriere ’21 combined her two passions to help create a device that teaches wearers how to kick, ball, change through buzzes.

Kick, Ball, Buzz
Members of Dynamic Rhythm—SCU’s tap dancing club co-founded by Alissa LaFerriere ’21—perform on campus in 2019. Photo provided by Alissa LaFerriere.
Tap Dance Anklet
The SwingBeats ankle device feature wires that vibrate on a dancer’s toe or heel, signaling when to use that part of their foot.

The phone bings. The smart watch vibrates. Clearing through the noise to find life’s music, its rhythm, is a struggle. What happens when the very beat—tap! tap!—is the thing that brings joy? Is yet another signal—a buzz to the foot—the way to discover it? A collection of SCU students hopes so. They puzzled through signals and noise for more than three years, attempting to bio-hack tap dancing with a wearable device.

A piece fell into place when Alissa LaFerriere ’21, a math major who has been tapping since she was 6, met Navid Shaghaghi M.S. ’14, the popular lecturer and researcher leading the dancing-to-engineering charge.

When she joined the  research and development team, Yu Yang Chee ’21 and Jesse Mayer ’19 M.S.  ’21, LaFerriere changed the way they thought about moves like kick, ball, turn—telling the dancer to move a moment before they should, for example. The device the team built, Swing-Beats, decodes  rhythm by sending a vibration to a dancer’s foot through a wearable anklet that syncs to the music. The project is still kicking on campus, going through iterations and looking for funding. It combined LaFerriere’s favorite kinds of puzzles: math and dancing. It also let LaFerriere focus on joy. “Tap dancing is pure happiness—you get to do so many cool little things with your feet,” she says.

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