People communicate in multiple ways: words we use, what we write, facial expressions, gestures, drawings, eye contact… All of these mechanisms enable us to transmit information to another person with the goal of having that person understand what we mean. The Wall Street Journal article, “Thesis Twist: Dancing Your Ph.D.,” further broadened my thinking about how we communicate:
In a body-popping bid for wider understanding, scientists from Australia to the Netherlands are making interpretive dance videos based on their Ph.D. dissertations. To make an esoteric thesis come alive, they leap, swoon, spin and krump….
As someone who cannot talk without gesticulating, incorporating movement into explaining a complex subject makes a lot of sense to me:
Movement, <anthropologist Natasha Myers> said, is a common but unappreciated part of the scientific method. The molecular biologists she studied often used their bodies to express their work. “They start moving around while they are talking to you about their molecules,” she said. “They are dancing all over the place.”
Princeton University ethnographer Janet Vertesi discovered that engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory also have a vocabulary of body English.
For two years, she studied the people who operate Mars robot rovers and discovered that they often contorted their arms like mechanical limbs, shuffled their feet, and splayed their hands behind them like solar panels, as they worked out maneuvers for the mobile robots millions of miles away.
“I called it the rover dance,” said Dr. Vertesi. “They really used their bodies to work through what the robot was experiencing. It was very unconscious.”
I must admit that when I was a graduate student I did not consider turning my thesis topic into an interpretive dance. Though if I were as skilled with a hula hoop as Dr. Sarah Wilk, I might have given it a try!