Left brain versus right brain. Logic versus emotion and creativity. That’s just how humans operate; they are either super smart or super creative, right? Actually, not so much.
Star Letters had the opportunity to discuss this with Merritt Moore, a professional ballet dancer that currently performs with the Norwegian National Ballet.
Merritt not only danced with Zurich Ballet, Boston Ballet, English National Ballet, and the London Contemporary Ballet Theatre, but she also graduated from Harvard University (with honors, we may add) in Physics. She later went on to earn her PhD in Quantum Optics from Oxford University.
This year, Merritt made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and was featured in the book Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. It’s only the beginning of an extraordinary career and for Merrit, the sky is NOT the limit. She has a lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut. Merritt was selected as one of the 12 candidates (out of thousands of applicants) to partake in BBC Two’s “Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes”.
What originally sparked your interest in both ballet dancing and science?
“I have always found movement and mathematics much more natural than words and requiring a similar mindset. I didn’t speak much as a kid (I didn’t say a word till about 3), so when I discovered dance at 13 yrs old, I felt such a freedom to have finally found a means to express myself in a way that felt most natural to me. Similarly, I gravitated towards physics because I found a freedom in the math and was inspired by the mysteries of the universe.”
In what ways do you think your work as a performer has helped your work in the field of physics? Or is it vice versa?
“From the dance studio, I have definitely learned to bounce back from failure really fast. I have auditioned so many times and gotten rejected so many times that it doesn’t phase me anymore. In fact I love it because I know that every time I put myself out there, I am improving and getting closer to my succeeding the next time. In my theory for every ten things I go for, one thing works out, so I might is well get through the nine non-successes as fast as I can, so I can enjoy the moment when it does work out sooner. I use this same mentality when I have to redo experiments over and over until it works.
Is there a common thread between ballet dancing and the study of physics?
“For dance and physics, both a creative and analytic brain is necessary. For example, creativity is needed all the time in the lab to think of new solutions to approach and visualise problems in a different way. And in the dance world, being analytic allows you to stretch the limits of your physical abilities while finding new, innovative forms of movement. The biggest difference is that ballet hurts my toes more…”
From the lab, I learned to be an experimentalist and try different approaches without getting attached to any particular method. In everyday life, people are often given advice/instruction and it is taken as law. Unfortunately with that mentality, a lot of opportunities and possibilities are missed. In contrast as a physicist, I am constantly starting from scratch and trying totally new ideas. It has helped me be resistant against prejudices and preconceived beliefs and given me strength to march to the beat of my own drum.”
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
“I am so incredibly touched when I hear that my journey has been inspirational. I receive messages daily that I have given a young girl or boy hope to pursue their science and art dreams. It makes all the hard work worth it and inspires me in return!”
What are some of your long-term goals in both the industries you work in?
“I would love to work with AI/ machine learning to create a dance duet with a robot so that we can feed off each other in an improvisational dance. I would love to create a ballet in zero gravity. And I would love to pursue physics research with the assistance of VR and dance…. (I get inspired by dreams so I’ve got a long list that goes on).”
Merritt is living proof that you do not have to choose an analytical, logical path or a creative one. As stated on her website, “[she] has had enough of hearing that it is only possible to pursue dance or physics. She has worked hard to juggle both to prove that the arts and sciences are not mutually exclusive. She works to inspire young girls and boys by showing them that there is no ‘standard’ personality or path for doing so.”
She has given a TEDx at Oxford University about her love of dance and physics, and is currently in the works of multiple projects, including virtual reality videos, that will be released soon!
Do you have anyone that you look up to or that inspires you?
“I admire my sister, Schuyler, so much. She is my best friend and rock.”
(Header Image Credit: Merritt Moore)
Cassie Thonen is a Space Reporter and Photojournalist for Star Letters. She studied Studio Art and Design at Northern Illinois University, with a degree emphasis in Photography. When she is not chasing rockets or staring at the stars, Cassie can be found perfecting her photography or with her dogs, Frankie and Chewie. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram.