The multitalented Merritt Moore (photo by James Glader, courtesy Moore)

She's a Ballerina. And a Quantum Physicist. And Maybe an Astronaut.

For the past decade, Merritt Moore has been living a double life as both a professional ballerina and a quantum physicist. While dancing with Zurich Ballet and Boston Ballet, she received her undergrad degree from Harvard in physics, and she's currently pursuing a PhD in quantum physics at Oxford while performing with English National Ballet and London Contemporary Ballet.

Now, Moore is hoping to add another ball to her juggling act: becoming an astronaut. She's one of 12 contestants competing on the BBC reality show " Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?" For six weeks, Moore and her competitors face a series of demanding physical and psychological challenges to see if they're astronaut material. (Show mentor Chris Hadfield, former Commander of the International Space Station, will recommend the winner to space agencies recruiting for astronauts.) Even in a cast of extremely accomplished people—the contestants include a military pilot, a surgeon, and a dentist who has summited Mount EverestMoore's unusual combination of skills stands out.

We leveled with the renaissance woman about how she's managed to pursue all her different passions.


Moore gets her stretching in while she studies (courtesy Moore)

How do you balance such a demanding schedule?

It takes a lot of persistence and patience. I've secretly done abs and feet exercises during seminars, I've fallen asleep on foam rollers, I've brought lacrosse balls to massage out my back during dinners, and I've done floor barres at the back of the bus during my two-hour commute between Oxford and London. My roommates are surprised if I'm sitting at my desk rather than studying in the splits on the floor or with a leg up in a doorway.

What keeps you dancing?

I've tried retiring 10 times. I've burned the pointe shoes; I've thrown out the leotards. But dance always draws me back. I'm not me without it—I have much lower energy, I can't concentrate, my grades drop. There's a wonderful euphoria that I only experience when I dance.

James Glader, courtesy Moore

What drew you to physics?

Physics brings to light so many mysteries, whether they be in the night sky or on a very small scale in the quantum realm. It requires imagination to understand difficult concepts, and creativity to figure out ways to solve problems. I loved puzzles and math as a kid. Physics combines those two passions, and there's the added bonus of it being applicable to the real world.

What's your advice for people who want to dance professionally, but also have other passions?

I highly recommend that every dancer have a second passion. I'm convinced it makes you a better dancer. Having that non-dance interest keeps things in perspective and makes you really appreciate what a privilege it is to dance. We all know the dance world can be a bit crazy sometimes, and inevitably we feel judgement, negativity, or insecurity. But if you have a second passion or career, that gives you the freedom not to care so much. It keeps you hungry to get back into the dance studio, and inspires new movement.

Trust your body. Your body is smarter than you think it is. When you can't find time to get to a dance class, be creative. For example every morning I turn on music and improv in my room. (I post some examples @physicsonpointes on Instagram, with the hashtag #mymorningroutines.)

How has your involvement in the arts affected your career in science?

Today, I think it's silly to categorize people as either having an analytical brain or a creative brain. Creativity is needed all the time in the lab to think of new solutions and to visualize problems in different ways. And in the dance world, being analytical allows you to stretch the limits of your physical abilities while finding new, innovative forms of movement.

Do you have plans to combine your dance and physics work somehow?

Yes! I'm determined to do so. Once I submit my PhD thesis in the next month, I'm going to dance full time, and focus on projects that merge physics and dance. At the moment I'm working on a dance piece for London Contemporary Ballet Theater that involves robotics, which will be at the Victoria & Albert Museum next month. I'm also pursuing a virtual reality project fusing physics and dance. And I'm brainstorming a children's book series with my sister about a dancing physicist, focusing on empowering young girls.

Moore and Michael Waldrop (Niina Tamura, courtesy Moore)

Have you always been interested in space?

I've dreamed of being an astronaut since I was very young, when I would identify constellations at night with my dad and read books about astronauts with my mom. That led to my fascination with physics, but I never thought becoming an astronaut would be a real possibility. The minute I heard about the BBC program, that dream was rekindled. A friend mentioned it at a dinner party, and I immediately got up from the table and applied from the hallway without thinking twice.

It sounds like the challenges the show puts you through are taxing both mentally and physically. How did ballet help you deal with these situations?

Ballet taught me persistence, and that's by far my greatest strength. As dancers, we have to think on our feet. Live performances are never perfect, but we have to keep a level head and make do with whatever comes our way. I'd never experienced any of the tasks I encountered throughout this astronaut process. I often felt overwhelmed, but I persisted.

James Glader, courtesy Moore

What was the biggest challenge for you on the astronaut training program?

Being mic'd up with cameras in my face while doing difficult tasks took me out of my comfort zone. I'm used to quietly working in a ballet studio or in a dark lab, with no one else around. And to be given one chance at unfamiliar tasks was beyond intimidating! I spend years preparing for ballet performances or physics exams, so to have only a few minutes to digest a task like hovering a helicopterand then perform it under pressure was really tough.

What did you enjoy most about the reality program?

The thrill of the challenges! The whole process was a shock to the system in an invigorating way. The adrenaline rush was addictive. It was also great to meet the candidates. They're all incredibly impressive, and really lovely human beings.

In the physics lab (courtesy Moore)

Will you apply for a position as an astronaut if you win?

Whether I win or not, I'll continue training to apply to be an astronaut. The average astronaut is hired in her mid-thirties, so I've got some time. I've started piloting lessons, and hope to get a license in the next couple years. Even though one can never count on being an astronaut (less than 0.15 percent make the cut), the pursuit of it will challenge me to improve every day.


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Because all dancers have experienced it at some point or another (Getty Images/patat)

How Dancers Can Beat Zoom Fatigue

Now that we're more than nine months into the pandemic, there's a big chance you're feeling Zoom-ed out. Read: Totally overusing the video-conferencing app for school and dance classes—and everything else. And according to dance/movement therapist Erica Hornthal, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT, there's good reason for that: "Managing your environment in a virtual space is taxing on the mind, and therefore taxing on the body."

Hornthal attributes these feelings, in part, to a mind–body disconnect that happens when we use the app: Your body knows you are alone in the room, but your mind sees a group of people on screen—and managing this COVID-era reality can be, well, exhausting. But we can also feel Zoom fatigue, Hornthal says, from having to "constantly be present to the third 'person' in the room: the Zoom camera." Uh, relatable!

So if staring at a grid of fuzzy faces—or into the abyss of that cold, dark lens on your device—has you feeling less than energized, here are some ways to cope.


Take breaks from tech throughout the day

Tamia Strickland, a sophomore in the Ailey/Fordham BFA dance program, trains both in person (with a mask, of course!) and online but says there are unique challenges that come with the latter. For one, she says, it's hard "to stay focused and motivated when you are in your basement or living room staring at a computer screen all by yourself—and all day long." These feelings can lead to frustration: You want to stay engaged with the class, but after staring at your computer screen for so long, you start to feel unmotivated.

As a remedy, Hornthal suggests taking breaks from your tech devices when you can. "The last thing you want to do," she says, "is exit a Zoom session and then immediately jump onto your phone." Instead, take a breather from everything virtual, and give your mind—and body—time to recalibrate. "Create space to connect or reconnect with your body when you are off technology," Hornthal says. "Take a walk, practice mindful breathing, embrace nature."

Move for yourself—and on your own

Another way to overcome feelings of online-class fatigue, Hornthal says, is to find time to move on your own—away from the camera on your device. As you begin moving for yourself, try to recognize and notice your own body wisdom. As a dancer, this could simply mean taking stock of what feels good and natural to your body as you, say, indulge in an improv sesh.

Tim Roberts, a Maryland dance studio owner and former performer, says giving his students time to turn their cameras off and work through their own movement has helped keep them motivated. "Opening that space for them is so necessary­ and beneficial, and helps them appreciate the time they do have with me," he says.

If you're not feeling up to a movement break, consider cooling down the mind and body by taking some time to stretch out and take up space in the body, Hornthal says. By encouraging greater body awareness, stretching can help give you more insight into what your body needs at any given point—a physical check-in before you head back into The Land of Zoom.

Tap into your other senses

When you're on Zoom, you're constantly using your eyes—to learn choreography, to support fellow dancers, to catch physical cues from teachers—so it's important, Hornthal says, to give yourself screen breaks. As you give your eyes a rest, take time to whet your other senses: Squeeze a stress ball; smell the outside air; gulp a tasty green smoothie; listen to your favorite playlist. The key here is to take in stimuli that trigger your other senses, rather than continuing to use (or overuse) your sense of sight.

And as a golden rule for your overall Zoom-life health, always remember: "It isn't just dance that is happening online—our entire lives are virtual," Hornthal says. "That means we have to be intentional with our downtime, and turn off technology, so we can tune in to ourselves."

Because honestly, what could be better than dancing alongside your mom? (Getty Images/undrey)

How You Can Support the Beginner Dancer in Your Life

Plenty of us have been dancing since we were teeny-tiny tappers and trinas, but walking into a dance class as an older beginner can be seriously intimidating. Luckily, one silver lining of the pandemic is that it's easier than ever to try out a two-step without even stepping into the studio—virtual classes seem to be everywhere we click nowadays.

Is one of your friends, siblings, parents, or grandparents interested in starting to dance, but totally unsure about where to begin? As the resident dancer in their lives, there are plenty of ways for you to encourage them. Here are just a few of the ways to support the newest dancer in your life.


Roll Out the Recommendations

The pandemic has opened up a whole new world of dance classes that you can stream right into your living room. By now, you're probably a seasoned Zoom dance pro. So start by asking your aspiring dancer what their goals are. Are they looking to just become more active? Study a specific genre of dance? Find a new creative outlet? Take that info and help them narrow down what kinds of virtual classes they might enjoy. Then, recommend some studios you know and love.

Be sure to give your friend or relative an impression of what to expect from their virtual class. Don't forget to offer Zoom-specific tips, like where to place their camera, or how to rearrange their furniture to provide enough space for class. And if they're nervous (or don't want the pressure of being on camera for their first few classes), let them know it's okay to leave their camera off until they're ready to try class with it on. After all, if Hugh Jackman can do it, so can they

Join Their Journey

Maybe you'd also like to broaden your dance horizons, or your friend is looking for an accountability partner. Try taking a beginner level class with your friend in a style you're unfamiliar with. Plenty of studios offer workshops for beginning dancers in a variety of styles, like Broadway Dance Center's Absolute Beginner Workshop seriesAbsolute Beginner Workshop series, which offers a series in every genre from ballet to street jazz.

Another option is to find a dance class video on YouTube, like Kathryn Morgan's at-home class series, and take it at the same time over a Zoom call by sharing your screen. That way, you can pause the video if you need to answer a question from your friend. (And try your best to remain calm when they ask you, for the fifth time, what "plié" means.)

Cheer Them Through Challenges

Most importantly, be there to support your friend or relative in their new dance journey. You know that there can be bumps along the road, but you also know that nothing compares to the feeling of nailing a hard combo, or accomplishing your next dance goal. The newest dancer in your life has all those milestones to look forward to along the way. Don't let them get discouraged when it's difficult —and help them celebrate their accomplishments, big or small.

Photo by Anaiah Simons, courtesy Taylor Jade Edgin

How Dance Helped Me Achieve Success in My Nondance Career Path

Like most kids, by the age of 4 I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up…a dancer. And sure, every kid picks a career to play along with—doctor, veterinarian, princess. But from that young age of 4, I was determined to turn my dream into a reality.

I spent my adolescent years in multiple dance companies, training to make the move to L.A. And then I got it: glimpses of my big break. I began working for and with the choreographers on my bucket list, got accepted into dance companies I'd tirelessly watch on YouTube, and even made it on that national commercial that my friends, family (and don't forget the frenemies!) got to see on repeat.

But then, suddenly, I felt a shift. Was I, the dancer who spent 18 years of blood, sweat and tears (and a crap ton of money) getting burnt out from the everyday hustle of my industry?

If I'm being honest, I always felt like the odd one out in my profession. It took me about four years of paying my dues in L.A. to realize that everything that was different about myself—and my mind—would serve as the catapult towards my new career path as a creative director.


Just Outside of Dance

While grappling with my sudden change of desire, I reflected on where it all started. I remembered being 10 years old, listening to the Black Eyed Peas' Elephunk album in the car, closing my eyes and visualizing a whole music video in my head. And while I thought that meant I would just be the choreographer or the dancer performing in the video, I never realized it might also mean I could be the person to bring the music video to life.

I flashed back to my various experiences on set as a dancer. I remembered how I always took interest in communicating with other departments and learning about their industries, and realized that it's OK to pursue creative endeavors beyond dance. I also paid close attention to how I was treated on set as "talent," taking all the things I learned and didn't like into deep consideration.

Growing Into the Role

Opening my mind allowed for a lot of fun opportunities, like the time I got to star as the lead in a music video that I was also hired to choreograph and direct, or when I started working with my teenage idol and mentor D-Trix, who taught me how to simultaneously choreograph and direct a piece for the camera. Combining my passions just felt right, but the coolest part about developing my knowledge as a creative director was that I got to do it in spaces I was already familiar with. Creating in the dance industry without actually dancing helped me discover that even though I'm focused on this new, creative role, I can still maintain my deep connection with dance.

I've spent the last four years continuing down the creative-direction path, developing artists, producing music videos, and marketing for friends. A favorite moment for me was working with Nya Bloom, a friend and upcoming artist who I convinced not only to create a short film for his first project, but also to hire me as a director.

After six months of brainstorming together, we pitched our ideas to an investor who loved them and granted us a budget. From there, I was hired as set designer, choreographer, stylist and director for the project, which granted me the opportunity to hire all my friends, from dancers and actors to DP and editors. We paid everyone their full rates and ran our production in succinct timing, wrapping everyone 30 to 60 minutes earlier than planned.

I was ecstatic to use all my skills from previous jobs as a dancer on set, and everything I had observed from my previous experiences, to put my skills to the test and produce a visual that turned out even better than we could've imagined.

Edgin getting comfortable in the directors' seat (Avo Guedekelian, courtesy Edgin)

Dancing to My Own Beat

I pride myself in not underpaying or overworking dancers and (subtly) brag about being the person to book you for a 12-hour day, release you ahead of schedule, and still pay you your full day rate. It's really important to me, as someone who has been in the positions I'm now hiring for, to make sure the talent is as comfortable and happy as possible.

As I've gained more experience in my role as a creative director and taking on artist development, I've realized that having a dance background made finding success in these nondancing roles so much easier. So, whether you choose to join a prestigious company as a full-time dancer or become a freelance creative director who dances whenever they feel like it, just know that dance is a tool that can help you achieve success in spaces you may have never imagined.

I'm so grateful for my now 21 years of dance experience for introducing me to my true calling in life. There was never a moment wasted, and I can dance to the beat of my own drum now.

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