CALS Student Scientists Dance – With Research
Sophomore animal science major Dedreanna Scott had three tests that week.
Junior Gini Brown, a double major in plant biology and biochemistry, just started work in a lab studying virus evolution in cassava plants.
But even with packed schedules, both choose to stretch themselves beyond library hours and lab coats: as trained dancers, Brown and Scott took the stage in Talley Student Union‘s Stewart Theatre on April 6 and 7 with the nationally acclaimed and highly competitive NCSU Dance Company.
“There’s a huge intersection between dance and academics for me,” Brown said.
“Art is creative, and our world right now needs us to be constantly innovating,” Scott agreed. “[Dance] makes us more diverse, more able to add another dimension to our academics, to be more creative when we do research.”
This isn’t your average dance company. One of two academic dance companies on campus, choreography is research-based, with an interdisciplinary partnership of students and faculty poring over research papers and newspaper articles, transforming facts and graphs into movement and theme.
Dancing Through Academics
The rehearsal schedule is rigorous: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and every other Saturday afternoon. Students receive two credit hours per semester for participation.
“I love that I feel a different part of my brain engaged when I dance versus when I study,” Brown said. “I also love that what we do here as a modern company is so connected with daily life – I feel like it’s more educational now.”
Dance strengthens students’ problem-solving across academic disciplines, provides an outlet for creative thinking and heightens their cultural awareness. In turn, students with majors ranging from biochemistry to political science bring invaluable experiences from academia to their performances. It also allows them enough distance from their normal area of study to see things from a fresh perspective – and get some mental rest.
“Sometimes you can’t stop thinking about all the things you need to be doing – all the assignments that need to be done, all the tests you need to be studying for,” Brown said. “But when I’m moving, I’m not thinking about any of that. It’s a time I can let all of that go and not let outside things affect me.”
“A way for us all to connect”
One portion of the 2017 performance used techniques pioneered by New York City choreographer Merce Cunningham, “very linear and random and focused around the concept of entropy,” Brown said, a concept that shows up often in her more traditional science courses.
The company also premiered multi-section dance theatre piece The Storm, choreographed by NC State Dance Program Director Tara Z. Mullins. Referencing the science-based cycles of a storm, the five-section work leads the audience through a young woman’s journey through forces of nature, featuring a divine figure foreshadowing the storm – that’s Scott.
“It’s…a roller coaster ride, especially for people who don’t know what modern dance is,” Scott said. “I think people are really going to…get a different idea of why art is needed in America.”
The piece also serves as a metaphor for psychological storms, a theme echoed by the poignant duet featuring Brown that honors the life of the choreographer’s mentor, and her loss to cancer.
“Dance is a way for us all to connect through this medium – we all go through traumatic life experiences, and we all have things that strike a chord with us individually,” Brown said. “Dance can connect people who otherwise may not be able to connect.”