Engineer gets Boston Marathon bombing survivor dancing again

With help from Hugh Herr, director of the Biomechatronics Group at The MIT Media Lab, Adrianne Haslet-Davis took to the dance floor today at TED2014 in Vancouver. Haslet-Davis, a professional ballroom dancer whose left leg was partially amputated after the Boston Marathon bombing nearly a year ago, took the stage with professional dancer Christian Lightner and danced a rumba to Enrique Iglesias’ “Ring My Bells,” as reported by TEDS blogger Kate Torgovnick May.

Herr, an amputee himself as a result of frostbite after a mountain climbing accident on Mount Washington in 1982, met Haslet-Davis at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston and, after hearing her story, decided, “Let’s build her a bionic limb.”

After that meeting, as Torgovnick May reports, “Herr’s lab launched a 200-day research period to study the dynamics of dance—to look at how dancers move and what forces they apply while they go. They embedded the fundamentals of dance into a limb for Haslet-Davis.” Describing the difficulty, Herr told the TEDS audience that even one of the oldest biomechanical interface devices—the shoe—still gives us blisters.

Herr told his TEDS audience, “In 3.5 seconds, the criminals and cowards took Adrianne off the dance floor. In 200 days, we put her back.” He added, “Bionics are not only about making people stronger and faster. Our expression, our humanity can be embedded into our electromechanics.”

As reported by WBUR, Haslet-Davis had this to say after her performance: “I’m thrilled to have danced again. It was invigorating to dance publicly with my new leg, but also to realize that my return to dance may have the power to inspire other people to reach for their goals and be proactive in their lives. I was always determined to dance again, and I knew that I had to, that I would, and here I am. My first dance happening to be so near the anniversary of the marathon bombing stands as a reminder that I’m a survivor, not a victim.”

Andrea Shea at WBUR has more on this story here. Also, read Herr's May 3, 2013 story “Bionics and the Boston Bombing Victims.”

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