Surprisingly, there are a huge number of dancing scientists that use modern or contemporary dance to express their scientific research visually to make it accessible and engaging. Dance and choreographed movement can be used to convey the complexity behind scientific research and can thus be an effective teaching methodology.
There are a few excellent examples that promote dance as an effective strategy for scientific research and teaching.
The U.S. dance company Dance Exchange successfully catalyses collaboration between artists and scientists. Dance Exchange has been working with students, faculty, and physicists at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) at Michigan State University to create a performance called Of Equal Place: Isotopes in Motion. The performance is shown at The Wharton Center for Performing Arts, Michigan, in collaboration with Happendance, co-directed by Elizabeth Johnson and Keith Thompson, and supported by the Wharton Center Institute for Arts & Creativity and Women & Minorities in the Physical Sciences. The cast is comprised of dancers, scientists, and local youth.
The dance represents the research being conducted at FRIB in nuclear physics. Interestingly, themes of stability and instability, measurement, acceleration, fragmentation, and navigating mystery apply to both nuclear physics and dance. The 55-minute performance takes place onstage, but pre- and post-show workshops, including movement workshops and talks from science experts, continue to engage the student community. A ‘dance and science study guide’ was also created for researchers and students at the university and the themes addressed in the performance are re-iterated in classroom discussions.
Other dance efforts driven by academics include Science Choreography, a dance porgramme integrated into teaching modules at Wesleyan University, Connecticut; STEM Danceology, which aims to teach students about complex STEM concepts through dance; or David Odde’s TED Talk in collaboration with the Black Label dance company, which explores symmetry breaking and cell migration. If you’re interested in navigating your own research through dance, look no further than Science’s international ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ competition. First held in 2008, the annual contest challenges scientists to explain their research through choreographed movement or interpretative dance, without words.
Researchers are encouraged to use a wide variety of dance styles to explain their research; some performances are pure comedy, others high art, but all try to make their research accessible through visual communication.