Moon Dance

I ran up the stairs to Studio Art. Justine was already rolling out the treadmill, so I climbed another flight of stairs to the old running track and let down both ends of the steel cable, one end connected to the harness and the other to the sandbag counterweight. Our reduced gravity rig was basically a giant Atwood machine leveraging technology perfected recently for flying performers in theatre and cinema. I turned on all the lights in the Crit space, and the wood floor shined.

This Saturday was our last day to work with our dancers before Justine left for LA to present her senior thesis at the March American Physical Society meeting. (From literally thousands of presentations, the APS’s PHYSICS web site would rank Justine’s Moon Dance talk as one of the meeting’s top ten highlights.)

We massed Rachel, and Justine helped her into the harness as I fine-tuned the sandbag mass to simulate lunar gravity. With Rachel sitting expectantly on the floor, Justine and I struggled to raise the sandbag and connect the steel wire to the harness with the carabiners. We moved away, and with an almost surreal lack of effort, Rachel gracefully stood, the sandbag descending as she ascended. I made a mental note to thank Mike for recommending the low-friction pulleys.

Kim and Justine had choreographed treadmill translation sequences for both Kathlyn and Rachel, but the free-dance improvisation proved most successful. Once we got the physics right, I had hoped we would produce something of artistic value, and we had. Our dancers had the grace, and we gave them the power – a superpower.

By approximating lunar and martian gravity for her senior thesis, Justine changed the physics of dance. But her central achievement was the unprecedented and dazzling reduced-gravity performances she elicited from her dancers. Later this century, dancers will dance on Luna and Mars, and Justine has glimpsed that future, and it will be spectacular.

Download a high-resolution 659 MB MP4 of our “Back to Black” video. The download may take several minutes, but it’s worth it.

Kathlyn MacDonald dancing at lunar gravity in our reduced gravity rig

A Kathlyn MacDonald floating pirouette

Rachel Lau dancing in lunar gravity in our reduced gravity rig

A Rachel Lau spinning leap

About John F. Lindner

John F. Lindner was born in Sleepy Hollow New York and educated at the University of Vermont and Caltech. He is a professor of physics and astronomy at The College of Wooster. He has enjoyed multiple yearlong sabbaticals at Georgia Tech, University of Portland, and University of Hawai'i. His research interests include nonlinear dynamics, celestial mechanics, and variable stars.
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