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NDEO's "Behind the Curtain" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.


Discovering Undergraduate Research Opportunities: Your Passion, Your Community, Your Significance

NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Julie L. Pentz, Associate Professor of Dance, with contributions by Hannah Yeoman, senior undergraduate student in Dance and Wildlife Conservation with an emphasis in Biodiversity and Conservation. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.


Why is dance in your life, and how do you want to make a difference? How can your dance community benefit from your passion? How can you turn your dance passion and community involvement into meaningful research? Undergraduate students often search for ways to combine their love of dance with their additional field of study. Current K-State student, Hannah Yeoman, is an example of a student with multiple interests. She is a senior pursuing a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation with an emphasis in Biodiversity and Conservation and a Dance Minor. Hannah has been fully engaged in the research program Tap To Togetherness, which instills positive family and child development skills using tap dance for family engagement, in partnership with Parents as Teachers, a program that serves families in our community.

In Hannah’s Words:

I joined the Tap To Togetherness research project in my sophomore year. I now realize how much it has furthered my academic career. This research experience has helped me in my professional aspirations of rescuing and rehabilitating marine animals. In that field, I will be utilizing skills such as: coding research, writing publications, applying for grants, and field research. I have had the opportunity to learn, practice, and refine my research skills, assisting me with my pursuits of becoming a Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation specialist.


Reflective Process

When working with undergraduate researchers, I begin with the reflective process. This        can be important when beginning to engage in qualitative research if it involves human subjects. The purpose of the reflective process, within Tap To Togetherness, is to help the undergraduate researchers improve their observational skills. They are then able to fully engage in the observational aspects of the research while delivering the program.

In order to gain a better understanding of the Tap To Togetherness reflective process it is important to share, briefly, what a Tap To Togetherness session looks like. These tap dance sessions encourage family interaction, challenge body movement coordination, and facilitate adult and child listening skills and discipline. The teachers enhance adult-child engagement, increase positive family development, assess and improve body movement and coordination, identify sensory needs and collaborate on ways to meet children’s sensory needs through tap dance sessions, and strengthen family relationships. The Tap To Togetherness session is no longer than twenty-five minutes. The sessions begin with a warm up and a call and response exercise (no longer than 12 minutes). In the second section, the undergraduate students hold a crucial role in delivering Tap To Togetherness. We break into three small groups to give the families more individual attention. In the first 2 minutes the group works on basic tap steps using the call and response method as a way to deliver the steps. The total length of the small group work is 7 ½ minutes. Our session concludes with one final large group activity (4-5 minutes) that revisits all of the tap steps that were introduced during the session.

The session does not allow time for the undergraduates to stop and write down observations, so the student researchers must make then after the class. As they progress with the program, observational skills and written reflection submissions demonstrate growth. The young researchers often express interest in the grant writing and a desire to write on a scholarly level. They recognize that these research experiences can enhance their skills in all areas of study.

In Hannah’s Words:

After a Tap To Togetherness event, I contribute reflections that focus on significant events during the session. In the beginning, I struggled with reflections. As part of my reflective process, I do bullet points of random observations after the class. For example, “the boy in the red shirt is participating now” or “parents finally participating” or “parents on their phones”. In the beginning, I had a habit of forgetting to write the reflections after the session, which would result in a loss of information. As I begin my fourth year as an undergraduate researcher my memory and reflective process has strengthened. This helps me in my biology major when we are looking at animal behavior. In my Orothology course we have to pay very close attention to details in animal traits. I had to identify birds native to the Midwest that often look the same. The only way to tell differentiate between species is the slight difference in coloration of feathers or beak shape and size. This identification came naturally to me because of my experience with Tap to Together while many students struggled with this identification.

IRB (compliance)

An institutional review board (IRB), also known as an independent ethics committee (IEC), ethical review board (ERB), or research ethics board (REB), is a type of committee used in research in the United States that has been formally designated to approve, monitor, and review biomedical and behavioral research involving humans. The purpose of the IRB is to assure that appropriate steps are taken to protect the rights and welfare of humans participating as subjects in a research study. Why is compliance important? When trying to collect data on any person or living thing (animals or plant life) you must complete an application and training to insure the protection of both the researcher and the research subjects. All student researchers complete this training.

Coding Your Observations

When you begin coding, you look for distinct concepts and categories in the data. In the case of Tap To Togetherness, we film our sessions from four different angles and then review the film for the coding process. We break down the films (our data) into concepts, or master headings, and second-level categories, or subheadings.

In Hannah’s Words:

For this program, the field research was our tap sessions. It had many tasks during these sessions. Some of the tasks included: observing behavior of parents and children, assisting in the teaching of tap, setting up and calibrating our cameras at different angles, and assisting with the set-up and tear down of all equipment.

I had never done coding before I joined this project, but I knew that the campus biological labs utilized coding in their research. I was ecstatic to learn how to code research. Tap To Togetherness sessions are recorded from four camera angles. My responsibility was to code all of films. I watched the films, documented what I observed, and time stamped it. I found coding to be simple, but time consuming. I had no idea that it would take me about 2 hours to finish coding a 20-minute session. I now feel confident in my coding abilities. In my biology major, coding is used so often. In Entomology, we were tasked to watch films of insects and dissect the different behavior. My previous coding experience gave me the sills to annotate all of those videos with my coding and succeed in the course.


How does your community make a difference in your life? It was a family crisis that led me to the local Parents as Teachers organization and our parent educator who identified a speech delay in my son. Their services led us to speech therapy and the eventual IEP when my son turned 3 years old. I wanted to give my time and talents, my passion, to Parents as Teachers, and so I started the Tap To Togetherness program.

Tap To Togetherness has exceeded my expectations. We now have an active research team with specialization in childhood education, kinesiology, nutrition, dance, and music. If you are a dance teacher teaching in a local studio, in the public-school system, a professor in academia, or an undergraduate student on your path to discovering your passion, community engagement can contribute to your meaningful work. Discover what is important to you and find community partners to join with you.

In Hannah’s Words:

When I am out in the community and perform with the Kansas State Tap Dance Ensemble, I frequently see the parents and children that are involved in the Tap To Togetherness program. When you live on or near a college campus, you can forget that there are families in the community  that aren’t there for college. This research project has opened my eyes to the community in Manhattan, KS. It encouraged me get out and communicate with people who I would have not been in contact with otherwise. It’s nice to get a glimpse into the normal life of the families that live in Manhattan to remind me that college life will turn into real life.


Through the Tap To Togetherness program, I’ve found a way to use my passion to make a difference. I can’t remember a time in my life when tap dance wasn’t present, and I believe that every task I agree to take on must help people. I’m making a difference in young families lives and the research that I’m conducting proves that our sessions are improving lives. I want my story to inspire and encourage others to make a difference in the lives of others. The best kind of job is the job that isn’t work. What is in your life that you want to do every day, all day?

In Hannah’s Words: Because of Tap to Togetherness, I have had the opportunity to conduct research and contribute to the process of writing publications and applying for grants. I applied these skills when I was accepted into an Entomology research lab. With the guidance of my entomology research mentor, I was able to choose my project question and hypothesis for my research. This is only one example of how I applied the countless skills I learned and worked on throughout my time with Tap To Togetherness. As I begin my final year as an undergraduate student I find myself looking back on my path to research. If you have the opportunity to engage in research don’t let fear stop you and determine your successes. There is a research project for everyone. it. It’s the best kind of reward, to be a part of a research team when a breakthrough happens!

Julie is a woman with long black hair, she is wearing large silver earrings and a black off the shoulder top.

Julie L. Pentz, BFA in Dance Education, Shenandoah University and MFA in Theatre Arts, University of Arizona. Julie's contributions to the dance field have traveled in the international dance community and her credits include guest teaching and performance appearances at the Theatro Libero in Rome, Italy, Taiwan, Chinese Cultural University, National Taiwan University of the Arts, Tsoying Performing Arts, Koahsiung Performing Arts, the Interdansa in Banyoles-Girona, Spain and the National Theatre of Ghanah, and Dagra Music Center in Ghana Africa. Julie has been teaching at Kansas State University for 13 years.  Currently Julie is an Associate Professor and Associate Director of Dance at Kansas State University, teaching jazz and tap dance, the K-State Tap Dance Ensemble, dance appreciation, and West African dance and music ensemble. Prior to Julie's return to graduate study she performed with The National Tap Ensemble and worked with master tap teachers that include Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, and Brenda Buffalino.  Julie’s current research is examining and enhancing family relationships, measuring physical movement, and looking at Parent perceptions/enjoyment/and parent-child connectedness and how they relate to physical activity.  She uses her program Tap To Togetherness to foster this research.  


Hannah Yeoman is a senior at Kansas State University. She grew up in Mission Hills, Kansas and started dancing at Miller Marley School of Dance and Voice at the age of five. She continues to study Classical Ballet, Lyrical Jazz, Hip-Hop, Tap, Broadway Jazz, Musical Theater, Leaps and Turns, Contemporary, and Modern Dance. She also danced with Performance Companies throughout her dance career at Miller Marley including; Showbiz Performers, The Entertainers, and The Competition Team. Hannah was also honored to be a Disney World Troupe Traveling Member. This is her third year on the Kansas State University Tap Ensemble and she is thrilled to be returning. She is majoring in Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation with an emphasis in Biodiversity & Conservation and is minoring in dance. She is an active member in Alpha Xi Delta sorority and has been a member of The National Society of Leadership and Success, Sigma Alpha Pi. She also is serving as the President of the student organization KanDance. She is a research assistant for a research program called Tap To Togetherness.

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