It may be an unfortunate stereotype, but very few people consider scientists to be doctors of the more funkified arts.
Archaeologist Dr. Brian Stewart won the competition with a little help from Herbie Hancock. Image by Jesus Mena Quintana
A new competition in Austria aimed to change all that while helping to spread some scientific knowledge. The event was the first annual “Dance Your Ph.D” contest recently organized by the Medical University of Vienna and “Gonzo Scientist” John Bohannon from the journal Science. The competition pretty much does what it says on the tin. Anyone who has or is studying for a doctoral degree is eligible to enter and do an interpretive dance on the subject of their doctoral thesis.
As it turns out, that negative stereotype about academics and dancing may be true, because most people agreed the dances were hilariously awful. The competition was won by Oxford University archaeologist Dr. Brian Stewart, along with Giulia Saltini-Semerari, for their interpretation of Stewart’s thesis, “Refitting repasts: a spatial exploration of food processing, sharing, cooking and disposal at the Dunefield Midden campsite, South Africa.”
Stewart dressed in a loin cloth for the dance, which included a stylized version of a hunter chasing an antelope while a Herbie Hancock interpretation of Pygmy tribal music played in the background. Let me say that again. A Ph.D in a translucent loincloth pretended to chase another academic dressed as an antelope while African music as interpreted by the man who wrote the song “Rockit” played in the background. Is there a video? Why yes, there’s one right here (alas, no sound).
That video link will also allow you to see clips from several other performers, including a pair of astrophysicists who danced as binary galaxies and a quantam physicist wearing a sheet with a laser on his head which represented… well it allegedly had something to do with photons.
A triumphant Dr. Stewart said of his performance: “Although I was attempting to convey to the audience that I was a Later Stone Age southern African hunter chasing an antelope, seeing me in a loincloth I think originally made the crowd favour us out of sheer pity. But as the dance progressed and music got groovier, their laughter turned to cheers and hoots until at the end when I jive off the stage after dividing the kill they were going nuts – they genuinely enjoyed our dance and that some of the feeling of my PhD got through.”
He added: “We hope to see many more people dancing their PhDs in the future.” As a fan of high comedy, I must agree.