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Former professional ballet dancers find a thriving second career in science

An interesting feature story published yesterday in the Washington Post looks at professional dancers who hung up their pointe shoes and forged a career in science. Among those featured in the piece is Aaron Thayer, a 29-year-old Stanford bioengineering major.

Thayer, who began dancing at the age of 10, eventually went on to dance for Smuin Ballet in San Francisco and simultaneously took classes at City College. In the article, he talks about what influenced him to choose a career in science and why it shouldn't be surprising that former dancers end up in the field:

“I wanted to do something different,” Thayer said. “I didn’t want to do economics. I wanted a different way of thinking about how to do business. And I love bodies — I have a very specific context for the understanding of biology. So I chose bioengineering. I love it. It’s awesome.”

On campus, he works in a stem-cell research lab, specializing in muscle-cell development. For Thayer, there’s a clear connection between pursuing scientific breakthroughs and creating groundbreaking works of art.

“The job of both the research scientist and the choreographer is to say something new,” Thayer said. “Science, at the top, is trying to come up with new knowledge... Dancers do that, too. But we do it mostly without words, and we do that in a community that needs a bigger infrastructure.”

Another Stanford scientist with a formal dance background is Helen Bronte-Stewart, MD. In this 2010 Stanford Mini Med School video, she offers a dancer's perspective on movement and Parkinson's disease and discusses the neurological activity behind human action.

Photo by iamthatphotoguy

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