Break dancer

Alumni Adventures

Break dancer

By John Canale

Alumna Sydney Tenaglia finds that modern dance helps her move to the rhythm of engineering.

As a software and firmware engineer, it’s Sydney Tenaglia’s job to break things to make systems more secure. As a modern dancer, she’s had to break everything she learned during her many years of jazz, ballet and tap dancing.


“With modern dance, you break all the rules,” Tenaglia said. “In ballet, you keep your form and position. Modern dance is about breaking form.”


Tenaglia ’19 earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the Case School of Engineering. While she was at it, she added a minor in dance through the College of Arts and Sciences. Now she applies both skills at Tektronix, a manufacturer of advanced electrical test instruments, at its facility in the Cleveland suburb of Solon. It’s her job to find the vulnerability in system coding and help the developers to improve upon it. In her spare time, she dances with CWRU’s Mather Dance Collective—aka MaDaCol.


Tenaglia has been involved with the collective for six years, having started in her freshman year at Case. Until recently, she routinely joined the Sunday night rehearsals in preparation for MaDaCol’s two annual shows, one each semester. The pandemic forced a pause to the dancing, but Tenaglia hopes to be back on stage in the near future. Dancing is in her blood.


She was introduced to dance as a precocious three-year-old who needed a way to channel her exuberant energy. Tenaglia, who grew up in Parma Heights, Ohio, started taking lessons from a teacher in nearby North Royalton and fell in love with all styles of dance.


“I did jazz, tap, ballet, lyrical for theatre performance,” she said. “I took dance classes all the way through school, K-12.”


While she was developing a love for dance after school, Tenaglia applied herself in the classroom. A self-professed “nerdy kid,” she found herself drawn to science. She entered Case as a biomedical engineering major, then pivoted to electrical engineering.


“When I got to Case, I really wanted to stick with dancing somehow,” Tenaglia said. “But that first year of college is so overwhelming, so much harder than high school.” 


Then she recalled a presentation by the Mather Dance Collective during freshman orientation. MaDaCol started on campus in 1984 and is open to CWRU students and non-students alike. Many alumni and working professionals are members. Tenaglia participated in the spring show her freshman year and has danced with the collective ever since.


“It’s really a group effort and a great learning experience for the grad students and us,” Tenaglia said. “The grad students are not only doing the choreography but  they have to stage it while working with strangers.”


The collective’s focus on modern dance incorporates the Martha Graham technique, which means all the perfect alignment and straight lines of traditional dance are gone, Tenaglia said. They’re replaced by flexed muscles, torso contractions and curved spines.


Through the collective, Tenaglia sometimes dances with other professional engineers, like classmate Sam Morrison ’19. 


While dance and engineering may seem an odd mix, Tenaglia’s dance background paid off when she interviewed for a co-op position at Keithley Instruments, now Tektronix.


“They told me it was one of the main reasons I got my co-op,” she said. “Engineers who are interested in any kind of art are creative. Engineering needs creative people to be innovative.”


And so she keeps on dancing—and keeps on innovating.


John Canale is a freelance writer in Greater Cleveland.

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Sydney Tenaglia


New works by the Mather Dance Collective will be part of Nouveaux Espaces, the 2020-21 performance season of CWRU’s Department of Dance. With live events cancelled because of the pandemic, performances will be presented through the spring semester via the dance department’s YouTube channel. Learn more HERE.

“They told me it was one of the main reasons I got my co-op. Engineers who are interested in any kind of art are creative. Engineering needs creative people to be innovative.”

— Sydney Tenaglia


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