Interpretive dance, really?

Whoa. It’s kind of a standing joke that when our presentation tools fail us, we’ll have to fall back on interpretive dance to make our points. We never mean it seriously, though. Until now. Science magazine challenged researchers to actually illustrate their work with dance, and people did! There are four youtube videos at that link that show the winners. I liked the graduate student entry best, but I’ll include this one because a) it was most comprehensible to me, and b) Laurie Anderson is wonderful.

You will never catch me doing this, though — I can’t dance, and I’m too ungainly anyway.


  1. Apikoros says

    I was once privileged to witness a talk at MIT wherein the video system utterly failed, and a well-known neuroscientist was forced to illustrate the migration of newborn cortical neurons via dance.

    It was AWESOME.

  2. llewelly says

    … and I’m too ungainly …

    You read that right folks. PZ has admitted atheism is the cause of the obesity epidemic. (Note how thin Jesus is.)

  3. Brad D says

    I got that it was hemoglobin and the balls were oxygen, but without the explanation on the YouTube page, I was clueless about the freezing and picture taking.

  4. kmiers says

    Cool. I was so sad for the incompletely oxygenated hemoglobin, but then everybody had oxygen, and my patient felt great!!

  5. Sili says

    Supposedly Marcus de Sautoy, Dawkypoo’s usurper, has danced a proof of the irrationality of sqrt(3).

  6. Midnight Rambler says

    How about the classic protein synthesis dance?

    You beat me to it; that’s definitely the elite level, the “molecular happening”.

    “tRNA, WHOOO!!!!”

  7. cyan says

    How can one thouroughly understand the processes, unless one has tranferred them into neuron networks that activate their own bones & muscles? Integrate your entire being!

    Aping another’s dance without understanding: useless.

    Creating a dance from the continuum of the understanding in the mind: ultimate.

    And changing that dance when additional information is made available.

    Doing and feeling the dances: viscerally appreciating the beauty.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    … I’m too ungainly anyway.

    (sigh). Yet another self-hating four-limbed vertebrate succumbs to tentacle envy.

  9. Stephen says

    I once had to give a talk about my work without traditional visual aids, due to the fact that they forget to tell me I was expected to give a talk until about 20 minutes before I started! (I thought I was just going to the meeting to listen.) I improvised with a plant-pot, table, chair and one or two other odds and ends. Due in large part to the fact that the previous speaker was very dull, it was very well received.

  10. Art says

    Okay, this opens up vast areas of opportunity for the liberal arts departments to shoehorn in the hard-science types.

    Even a small change could shift things dramatically, in both senses.

    Say that all PhD dissertations have to be delivered as an interpretive dance. I can see hard-science students flooding the liberal arts departments to get training in dance and drama.

    It would be all to the good. The liberal art colleges could use a little science input and the science types, with a few exceptions, could do with a little training on how to be light on their feet and expressive. The opportunity to meet potential partners in a social setting doesn’t hurt either side. Who knows, they might meet someone and get laid. Which can only help with the fluidity and imagination of their performance.

    This would impose no great burden on the liberal arts majors who are pretty much doing the best they can with what they have to work with. Their dissertations are pretty much already presented in interpretive dance.

  11. mayhempix says

    In an adult hi tech version of a scavenger hunt we had to choreograph a 1 minute dance of famous historical event and video record it with the cameras we were given.

    I proposed the splitting of the atom. The other 5 members of our group formed a tight but humming pulsating moving knot and I ran towards them holding the camera in front of me as the rogue electron’s POV. When we collided the knot burst apart and we were on our separate ways to destroy the next unsuspecting atom.

    We won the scavenger hunt as well as best choreography.

  12. Michael I says

    I can see it now…

    Sometime next Fall…

    PZ announces a challenge for scienceblogs’ “Donor’s Choose” campaign…

    Meet the $$$ target and watch PZ dance like a biologist…


  13. says

    This is the sort of thing Dawkins advocates in Unweaving the Rainbow – science should be inspiration for art. He, however, focuses on poetry.

  14. alex says

    did this happen last year too? i remember reading about some “dance your phd”, in which the winner was an anthropologist (or in some similar field) and illustrated an early hunt while wearing shimmery underpants and cavorting around with a spear.

  15. CJ says

    In my Bio 200 class a couple of years back, our lab director showed us a video of a grad student group who did an interpretive dance on their study of the function of ATP synthase.

    Beats the computer animation hands down.

  16. says

    As someone who studies Buffon needle probability of 2-dimensional partial Cantor sets, I would have to repeatedly subdivide myself into fourths, and I would have to jump into the air spinning and land on the straight and rigid.

  17. LeeLeeOne says

    cyan: Very thoughtful, thanks for posting.

    Thanks, PZ, for posting this. It was quite creative, informative, as well as courageous for all participants.

    I have imagined you as a professor many times and in my imagination you are very animated in your lectures with your voice that contrasts that animated excitement so well. Please do not say that you could not do this. With demonstration, everything is possible (i.e. – do as I do and learn).

  18. Larry says

    How can anyone not love science with beautiful explanations like all of these?? Absolutely awesome!!

  19. NelC says

    I say you should polish those interpretive dance techniques for the next time your laptop breaks, PZ.

  20. bezoar says

    back in the day I might have figured this out but at my advanced age all I could think was “what the fuck”?

  21. Black Jack Shellac says

    This item is crashing my browser if I enable flash. I got me a love hate relationship with that goddamn plugin.

  22. Sili says

    But what about the finger puppets and epic poetry?
    Posted by: khan | November 28, 2008 3:32 PM

    Wasn’t there a chemistry article in iambic pentameter?

  23. Tim H says

    I seem to remember an explanation of the BCS Theory of Superconductivity done in dance 20+ years ago.

    People here are thinking small. There’s great possibilities for depicting large scale processes with a marching band.

  24. Lester says

    Interpretive dance is about the gayest thing in the world (I have nothing against gay persons)

  25. Gary G says

    mothwentbad: “I would have to jump into the air spinning and land on the straight and rigid.”

    I know you fixed it two minutes later, but thanks for the laugh, anyway! There’s an interpretive dance that would take dedication to your discipline.