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Naja Gordon Bard Class of 2017

Naja Gordon is a dance major at Bard. In her freshman year, she took a science class – Bard College’s innovative and immersive Citizen Science course that is required for all first-year students – and became interested enough to pursue more courses in science. Here, she reflects on how her science courses have influenced her.

How is your experience of dance different now as a result of your engagement with science?

My experience of dance has been transformed by my engagement with science. Having a firm grip on anatomy, human physiology, and even psychology has built within me an awareness of how I’m moving at all times, and how I can move more efficiently and fluidly. My engagement with science has also helped me greatly as a choreographer. A recent concert at Bard featured a piece I created called “Covalence,” which was inspired wholly by my scientific studies of the molecular properties of water. Covalent bonding, dynamic equilibrium, phase changes, surface tension, and polarity motivated the movement. Created through the process of structured improvisation, Covalence portrayed a contemporary dancer, a modern dancer, and a ballet dancer in a state of dynamic equilibrium, like water molecules as they transition between liquid and gaseous states. Basing my movement and choreographic choices in something scientific that I understood allowed me to connect to the piece more deeply than just presenting it aesthetically.

The connections between dance and science have also gone the other direction. In a final project for my Network Science course, my partner and I developed a visual and mathematical network of the connections between Bard and various dance artists, administrators, and companies. Our goal was to demonstrate the possibilities for a recent Bard graduate who wanted to pursue a career in dance.


Bard dancers are pushed to be extremely analytical and cerebral when dancing, and sometimes we forget the core of dance and performance: energy.
In what ways does science connect with the rest of your life? How have you seen or experienced those connections?

In my work now, I’m really interested in the idea of dance as an orchestration of different types of energy. Energy is essential matter that cannot be created or destroyed and is usually transferred through a system. Moreover, systems need energy in order to function. When I think of a dance as a system, or a collection of dancers on stage as a system, the energy that feeds them is the energy that makes a work a work. There is kinetic and potential energy in the movement, radiant energy from the lights, the energy between the audience members and the dancers, the energy of the dancers themselves and even with each other. Of course, the energy can be traced down to a molecular (and even smaller) level. Bard dancers are pushed to be extremely analytical and cerebral when dancing, and sometimes we forget the core of dance and performance: energy. Thinking this way has allowed me a lot of clarity. I can communicate what I want to in a work by focusing on energy, rather than focusing on structure, intention or form.

Looking back, what are your strongest memories of Citizen Science? What aspects of that experience do you think have carried forward into the rest of your time at Bard?

Without Citizen Science, I might never have realized my interest in global public health. Our study of infectious disease was absolutely fascinating to me, and I found myself doing a lot of research outside of the classroom. Citizen Science required me to be inquisitive, precise, and engaged wholly in my work. The practice of building physical models, designing experiments, and presenting work provided me a solid background in scientific practice that I carried forward into my Environmental Microbiology and Genetics and Evolution classes. The many in-class presentations required of a Citizen Science student helped alleviate my fear of public speaking. Rather than being fearful of being wrong, or having data that doesn’t make sense, I developed the skills to articulate research I have found, and to make sense of data that doesn’t support my original hypothesis.


Have you had moments in dance or non-science classes when you see a scientific angle to a problem that you might not have seen before you started taking science classes? What was that like?

Taking science classes has helped shaped my problem-solving skills most visibly in the way I choreograph pieces. My dance classes require me to create several pieces and phrases per week. Having to generate that amount of material on a weekly or daily basis can drain me of inspiration. But if I approach each piece as an experiments in movement/space/time, I find a lot more room for creativity. In my Dance Composition course, we have a weekly lab period – much like the lab sciences – in which we can create material. Much like in a biology lab, I start with an idea or a sort of movement hypothesis. I normally then improvise for a bit, gathering data, engaging in divergent thinking and taking note of patterns or observations in my choreographic notebook. From the data that I have written down, as well as the new energy and information in my body, I can start to mold the material and boil it down to what I think are the most critical and satisfying elements.