Brooklyn’s STEM From Dance
Wins Spark Prize
By Fern Gillespie
Dance and math have been intertwined in Yamilee Toussaint Beach’s life since her childhood in Long Island. So, in 2010, the MIT grad combined these passions and became the founder and CEO of Brooklyn’s STEM From Dance. For over 12 years, she’s electrified the lives of Brooklyn’s girls of color by combining creative dance with high technology.
For its innovative work in racial justice, STEM From Dance has joined Brooklyn nonprofits Arab American Family Support Center, Kings Against Violence Initiative, Mixteca Organization, and Workers Justice Project as winners of the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s 2023 Spark Prize. Each will receive a $100,000 ‘no strings attached’ grant from the Foundation and be honored at the Spark Breakfast on March 14. Launched in 2016, the Spark Prize recognizes pioneering nonprofits committed to racial and social justice with deep roots in Brooklyn.
“Racial justice is the heart of everything we do at Brooklyn Community Foundation. And we know that grassroots, community-based nonprofits are the key to undoing structural racism and achieving our vision for a fair and just Brooklyn,” said Dr. Jocelynne Rainey, President, and CEO, of Brooklyn Community Foundation, told Our Time Press. “Many people who work at the nonprofits we support are from the communities they serve and understand what their communities need to create a better future.”
At STEM From Dance, girls of color choreograph and dance with flash. “I draw a lot of inspiration from pop culture and seeing how Beyonce and Rihanna use technology in their performances. That’s what we are allowing our students to experience,” Beach explained to Our Time Press. “Our students can make costumes with circuits and LEDs and be able to program those circuits to be responsive to their movement. I think it’s so cool that you can have a costume that lights up every time you jump. That’s one of my favorites.”
From age four to 18, Beach took dance lessons in ballet, tap, jazz, modern, pointe, African, and hip-hop. “That continued when I went to MIT and was trying to find my place, and what energized me after hard engineering classes. It was a dance that I turned to,” she explained. “I was excited about how MIT opened new learning experiences and opportunities. I was also disappointed by how few women of color I would see in my classes. That fueled my passion for wanting to change that.”
According to Beach, less than 5 percent of the STEM workforce comprises women of color. “To change that number, we really have to think differently about how we present STEM to our girls of color,” she stressed. “Art has a major role. Many girls find STEM to be a place where they don’t belong. Something that feels irrelevant or too hard for them. So, our use of dance allows us to break down some of those walls. I went to dancing school, and then I had math club. I’m showing them that the two can co-exist.”
The phenomenal STEM From Dance program has served over 1,000 girls and has been spotlighted in Essence and Glamour magazines. There have even been in-person programs in Atlanta, Orlando, and Columbia, South America. “The Spark Prize is such an amazing honor for STEM From Dance,” said Beach. “We have a big vision to impact millions of girls of color. To get there, we need a community of supporters, cheerleaders, and advocates, to allow us to grow the organization.”
“STEM From Dance is an inspiration! I am a big believer in the power of the arts to unlock individual potential and create economic opportunity,” said Dr. Rainey. “Plus, the beautiful combination of science, engineering, and dance is next level and something that is so uniquely Brooklyn,”
For more information on grants from Brooklyn Community Foundation, go to www.brooklyncommunityfoundation.org. Check out STEM From Dance’s electrifying performances and tech workshops at