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A New Type of Wheelchair Is Designed for Dancers

Most wheelchair designs are often focused around users’ comfort in everyday use, promising a better fit or a greater ease of movement. But wheelchair users want to do more than just move around without getting chafed. One wheelchair design in development supports dancers who can’t necessarily perform without mechanical aid. Science Friday reports that a University of South Florida-born power wheelchair is made to allow its users to move expressively, giving them the freedom of movement that dancing requires.

Wheelchair dance isn't a new phenomenon. In fact, for some people, dancing is more than just sport. It’s a form of therapy. Parkinson’s patients, for instance, often show symptom improvement after regular dance training. But performers often use chairs that are rigid and not designed for modern dance. The Rolling Dance Chair, by contrast, has greater flexibility to move in any direction. And when users move, the chair follows.

Through a wireless connection with the accelerometer and other motion sensors on the user's phone, the chair can sense the person is leaning, and lean with them. The wheels are tucked away to prevent costumes from getting tangled. And like a Segway (which partially served as a design precedent), the chair moves faster the more the user leans.

Merry Lynn Morris, the inventor, has been working on the dance chair for five years, and it’s the subject of five different patents. She began working on the device while working with dancers with disabilities who couldn’t control their lower bodies, but whose upper bodies were strong enough that the chairs they were using did more to hinder their performance than aid it.

The first prototype debuted in 2013, but Morris and her colleagues are working on a new one with hopes to put it on the commercial market. Right now, the seat isn’t powered to rotate or adjust the height, requiring manual manipulation, and it needs better wheels to make it quieter on all surfaces.

[h/t Science Friday]

Header image by Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images

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Animals
Move Over, Goat Yoga: Alpaca Dance Classes Have Arrived
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A surprising number of people want to exercise alongside farm animals. Multiple farms across the U.S. offer yoga with goats, a livestock twist on the trend of doing yoga with cats. And in Canada, you can now learn to dance with alpacas, according to Travel + Leisure.

Anola, Manitoba's 313 Farms launched its all-ages AlpacaZone Dance and Fitness classes this summer, offering hip-hop, barre, pilates, and cardio classes for six weekends.

Sadly, the alpacas aren’t teaching the dances. But the classes do take place outdoors among the merry camelids, who are free to wander into your choreography at any time. Taking a water break during class is so passé; better to take an alpaca-petting break. After class, you get a meet-and-greet with the animals, giving you even more time to pal around. (Take note: One of the alpacas reportedly loves kisses.)

Two adults and several children dance in the midst of an alpaca pasture.
Courtesy 313 Farms

313 Farms owner Ann Patman told Travel + Leisure that she was inspired to start the alpaca dance program when a nearby farm started offering a popular goat yoga series. Patman, a Detroit native who named her farm after her hometown’s area code, had previously worked at a dance studio.

The registration for classes like the hip-hop focused “Poppin’ Pacas” and “Barn Barre” costs a low $10 pre-sale, or $15 the day of. The AlpacaZone classes end on August 19, but the owners may offer more because of high demand. Sounds like it's time for a little alpaca-exercise-induced road trip to rural Canada.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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entertainment
5 Things You Didn't Know About Josephine Baker
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Singer and dancer Josephine Baker—the subject of today's Google Doodle—was probably the closest thing the Jazz Age had to a mega-star. The African American diva, who was known as "La Baker" in her adopted France, was a worldwide celebrity and devoted civil rights activist who first rose to fame by dancing in a "skirt" of artificial bananas and very little else. While Baker's activism and military service were commendable, they often took a back seat in the contemporary media to her bizarre personal life. Let's take a look at five things you might not have known about Josephine Baker, who was born on this day in 1906.

1. SHE WAS A SPY.

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When World War II rocked her adopted France, Baker didn't simply move to a more peaceful country. Instead, she stuck around and did her part for the war effort. Since she had initially publicly supported Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, the Axis powers mistakenly thought she was "one of them," and Baker took full advantage of this misconception.

In fact, her fame made her the perfect spy. When Baker would travel Europe while touring, she obviously had to carry large quantities of sheet music with her. What customs officials never realized, though, was that a lot of this music actually had secret messages written on it in invisible ink. Fawning immigration officials never thought to take too close a look at the diva's luggage, so she could sneak all sorts of things in and out of countries. On some occasions, Baker would smuggle secret photos of German military installations out of enemy territory by pinning them to her underwear.

This invaluable intelligence work eventually helped Baker rise to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force, and when the war was over she received both the Croix de Guerre (a first for an American woman) and the Medal of the Resistance in 1946.

2. A DUEL WAS FOUGHT IN HER NAME.

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Lots of stars have devoted fans, but how many would be willing to fight a duel for their favorite diva? In 1928, a Hungarian cavalry officer and an Italian count did just that in Budapest. According to a contemporary account from TIME Magazine, "the ogling and attentions of Hungarian Cavalry Captain Andrew Czlovoydi became too fervently gallant to be stomached by La Baker's manager, Count Pepito di Albertini." Rather than just ask Czlovoydi to knock it off, the Count took the reasonable step of challenging the soldier to a sword-fighting duel.

Fittingly, the two duelers met in a cemetery for their showdown while Baker cheered on the Count from a perch atop a tombstone. According to TIME, the two men battled with swords for a solid 10 minutes before the Count took a light blow to the shoulder. At that point, Baker intervened and forced the two men to set aside their differences.

3. SHE ADOPTED A DOZEN CHILDREN.

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Celebrities adopting children from underprivileged backgrounds may be old news at this point, but what Baker did in the 1950s is still shocking and fascinating. In an effort to combat racism and provide an example for the rest of the world to follow, Baker started adopting orphans from all corners of the world.

Baker started by adopting two Japanese children, and kept going until she had assembled a family of 12 children from a variety of countries and ethnicities; Baker dubbed them "the Rainbow Tribe." The Baker family lived in a chateau in southwestern France, which the star turned into a sort of resort/theme park with a multicultural theme, but it didn't catch on quite as well as Epcot did. By 1968, the operation was hemorrhaging money, and Baker's creditors had to sell the mansion out from under her.

4. SHE AND GRACE KELLY WERE CLOSE FRIENDS.

Although Baker lived and worked in France, she still made frequent touring trips back to the United States. During one 1951 visit to New York, Baker found herself at the Stork Club at the same time as rising actress Grace Kelly. When the racist staff refused to wait on Baker, Kelly, who was dining with a large party of her own, flew into a rage and walked out of the club in support of Baker.

From that moment on, Kelly and Baker were close friends. In fact, when the Rainbow Tribe's chateau was on the rocks financially, Kelly—who by that time had become Princess Grace of Monaco—tried to bail Baker out with her creditors. When Baker ended up losing the house, Kelly didn't abandon her friend. Instead, she arranged for the singer to have a villa in Monaco.

5. BAKER HAD QUITE THE MENAGERIE.

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Baker was just as big on collecting animals as she was about acquiring children. When a club owner gave her a pet cheetah named Chiquita to use as part of her dance show, Baker was delighted. In fact, she liked Chiquita so much that the cat stayed with her long after the act ended; eventually the cheetah traveled the world with Baker, always riding in her car and sleeping in her bed.

That wasn't Baker's only pet, though. She had a goat named Toutoute who lived in her dressing room at her nightclub, and at the same club she had a pet pig named Albert. Albert was no ordinary pig. Not only did he live in the club's kitchen and munch on food scraps, but Baker also liked to gussy him up with fancy perfumes. At one point Albert got so hefty from living this high life that he couldn't make it out of the kitchen's door any longer, so the door's frame had to be broken down.

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