Merritt Moore has surprised her share of Harvard University security guards. When she was pursuing her undergraduate degree at the Ivy League school, she was often in the physics lab late at night, after performing in double features of The Nutcracker with the Boston Ballet. In the mostly abandoned building, she would be conducting science experiments in full coat, gloves, and mask, while doing arabesque positions and foot exercises during the downtime.
It’s just one of the tiny ways that Moore has balanced her dual passions—professional ballet and quantum physics—while excelling at both. After finishing at Harvard, the multitasking wonder graduated from Oxford University last month with a PhD in Quantum Optics, all the while performing with English National Ballet and London Contemporary Ballet Theatre. Now that she’s turned in her dissertation and gotten her degree, she is throwing herself into dance full-time, which includes an upcoming trip to Missoula for Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre’s annual program, Ballet Beyond Borders.
Most people are baffled that she can excel at two such disparate and difficult disciplines, but Moore thinks everyone could benefit from splitting their time between interests.
“I use one to take a break from the other one,” she says. “They complement each other. When my brain is burnt out from doing physics, I’m so excited to be in the dance studio, and each moment feels like 100 percent.”
While she admits that pursuing two passions takes a huge amount of time and commitment, she’s also found that it’s the only way she can excel at either. She has tried to quit ballet multiple times in the past, to make more room for her science career, but each time she’s found that it’s hurt the rest of her life, from her physical health to her studies to her outlook.
“It’s easy to become stuck with all of your negative thoughts and doubts, in both dance and physics, but especially in ballet,” she says. “You can get wrapped up in criticism. But because I have something else in my life, I’m just excited. I care about the music and the movement, and none of those worries are stopping me. I see people who have the potential to be incredible dancers, but you see the dark cloud of uncertainty and insecurity over them.”
Also, art and science, Moore says, aren’t that different at all. In fact, they need each other.
“It drives me crazy when people say, ‘This kid has an analytical brain and this kid has a creative brain,’” she says. “It makes no sense! I don’t switch from one brain to another. To be dancing, you have to know about forces and torque and your center of mass to really improve. And in the lab, you have to be creative and imaginative and think outside the box. Maybe you can solve all the problems in the textbook without being creative, but what about new discoveries and really improving the world?”
Ballet Beyond Borders takes place across Missoula from Tue., Jan. 9, through Sat., Jan. 13. Tickets available through the Top Hat. Visit rmbt.org for more info.