Deirdre Moore | January 2016

Dance, Science and TED Talks: An Intersection of Great Ideas

 A friend recently pointed me to a TED Talks that I want everyone in my life to see.

When I try to explain what I do for a living, to explain integrating dance and science for instance, they always want to hear more.  “How does that work exactly?”  From now on, I should be sure to have this TED Talks handy so they can see for themselves. Biologist and Journalist  John Bohannon gave a TED Talks that completely validating what I already know.  Dance helps people understand more deeply, especially complex or abstract ideas.


John Bohannon’s talk is great on so many levels but two things stood out to me.  One is  that he states, “I think that bad PowerPoint presentations are a serious threat to the global economy.”  He goes through a tongue-in-cheek explanation of how money would be much better spent on hiring dancers to illustrate points rather than using slides. This is because he estimates that 1/4 of all PowerPoint presentations are actually useless, making a solid point.  Imagine if you challenged someone who created a PowerPoint presentation to ditch the slides, and find a way to use a dance company to help relay the message.

My guess is not only would the presentation be more engaging, but the presenter would be forced to get to the essence of the talk. They might even change the content slightly to end up with a more focused and useful presentation.

The second thing that struck me was the beautiful demonstration of the integration of science and dance in his TED Talks.  Rather than slides, he uses a Minneapolis-based dance company called Black Label Movement.  Bohannon tells the story of a scientist friend from MIT trying to explain a difficult concept to him, and his frustration in not understanding it. Along with, wishing his friend had used dancers to explain it.  All while Black Label Movement is doing just that, so we as the audience have a better understanding of what the MIT physicist was trying to tell Bohannon.  As Bohannon suggests “…if you’re trying to give someone the big picture of a complex idea, to really capture its essence, the fewer words you use, the better.  In fact, the ideal may be to use no words at all.”

This inspired Bohannon to start a contest called “Dance Your PhD” where he challenges scientists to use dance to illustrate the main idea of their thesis.  I only checked out the winners of the 2015 contestbut they are definitely worth a look. The performers are primarily scientists and not dancers. While, their products may not be ready for Broadway, they do demonstrate how engaging and enlightening movement can be – even for the most difficult concept.

Bohannon discusses a scientist who does use dancers as “efficient brainstorming” to study how cells move, and help him determine how to create mathematical models to test in his lab based on his work with the dancers.   As a firm believer in arts integration, it is validating to me to hear that scientists in the field are actually using dance to help them in their work – demonstrating their ideas through dance or using dance to help them determine mathematical models for testing.  I highly recommend checking out not only the TED Talks, but the dances created by PhD candidates to help inspire you.

Hopefully, it should remind you that if you are taking the time to teach children even just the basics of dance and helping them integrate that with science, you are having them behave as some scientists do and preparing them for exciting and challenging work ahead!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.