Asked to explain decay, some scientists might talk about mold and cheese. Or sugar and teeth. Or bacteria and enzymes. Soon, Frederick Moss might just dance.
A chemistry Ph.D. student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Moss is also a professional dancer, gliding between the seemingly incongruous worlds of science and art. Neither is just a hobby. So when one tries — and fails — to appropriate the other, he cringes.
“You don’t have either side taking the other seriously,” Moss said. “When the two attempt to come together, you are often left with underdeveloped inspiration or immemorable comedic bit.”
They might not be the most obvious coupling, but art and science make a productive pair. Recent neurological research suggests that incorporating singing, drawing, or dancing into studying can help students remember slippery subjects better. Educators even have a term for the happy marriage: STEAM, where that “A” stuck inside STEM stands for Art.
Moss would make a perfect poster boy. As an undergraduate at Morehouse College, he racked up enough credits to complete two majors — premed and musical performance in classical cello — by the end of junior year. Instead of graduating early, the Queens, N.Y., native continued to explore, polishing off minors in Spanish and dance.
After leaving Atlanta, Moss moved up to Massachusetts to join Daniel Kahne’s lab at Harvard as a post-baccalaureate. On a whim, he enrolled in more dance classes at Modern Connections Collective in Somerville, exploring jazz, hip-hop, parkour, and ballet.
Not long after, Boston’s Urbanity Dance offered him a full-time contract, and he accepted. Every weekday starting in December 2017, Moss was in the studio from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., first rehearsing with his crew and then teaching lessons to kids. From 3 p.m. to early evening, he worked on his research projects in the lab and taught chemistry to undergraduates. “It was like trying to clone myself and do the same thing in two different places,” he said.
Far less experienced than the other dancers in his troupe, Moss often had to learn technique on the fly. Sometimes literally: In a contemporary piece called “HIT,” some of the dancers leapt at others, hoping they would catch and flip them in a new direction. When it didn’t work the result was a violent collision of limbs and joints. But Moss wasn’t fazed: “When those hiccups were happening,” he said, “it wasn’t this freak-out moment. Either I ran into somebody or I just got a leg in the face, and you just keep moving.”