A scientist in the dance studio

A Scientist in the Dance Studio

When you think of the artistry of dance, it probably conjures thoughts of bodies in motion in theatres and rehearsal studios and not stark white stem cell research laboratories or clinics; for Dr. Kelli Sharp, it does. For her, it is just another day in the classroom and at the office.

We recently sat down with Dr. Sharp to find out how she integrates her two passions as a scientist in a world of artists as she prepares to be a first-time artistic director for the upcoming Dance Escape 2018 graduate student choreography concert.

UCI Arts: What sparked your interest in in dance science? Can you tell us more about your work with integrating dance and science?
Dr. Kelli Sharp: As a child through young adulthood, I danced and acquired a love of movement. The study of movement for me began in the studio, but quickly evolved to working with horses, then in graduate school, I focused my studies towards human movement with the focus on the how the brain and the body are intersected after neurological disorders.  The succession of combining dance and science has been a natural progression. My passion for the power of human interaction and providing tools for individuals to enhance their lives whether that be how to get out of a chair or learn how to be better performers by utilizing their minds and bodies to their fullest potential.

Q: What has it been like to be the resident dance scientist with a physical therapy background in the department of dance?
DKS: It has been an extremely rewarding experience to work with incredibly talented students and faculty from the Arts. It is hard to explain in words how much joy it is to work with the students in the dance department. By offering courses in dance science, I hope the students gain a better sense of self, increased awareness of how to properly train to be a successful performer, academic, and overall engaged individual in their lives. In addition, I hope they gain an appreciation for how our bodies are constructed mechanically from an anatomical point of view, but also understand the relationship of this composition in space.

Q: Are you excited to be a first-time artistic director for Dance Escape?
DKS: I am extremely excited for this opportunity to collaborate with various factions of the Arts to help guide young and gifted talented individuals to create works of expression. My primary goal as an artistic director for Dance Escape is to construct a vision and connectedness between mind, body, wellness, and artistic expression.

Q: Does being a scientist and artistic director go hand in hand?
DKS: As a trained scientist we are taught to develop and follow very strict standard operating procedures like baking. I worked in a large center, with my factions to coordinate various projects with very different objectives and this is much like the role as an Artistic director, just based on science. The process is very similar, the desired outcome is hypothesized, but your specific results are unknown much like directing a show.  As an artistic director, you are given a general scaffolding to follow, but you provide leadership and guidance for all parties involved to create their craft within this scaffold, much like running an experiment or a clinical trial.

Q: You conduct research for rehabilitation for neurological disorders. How does dance therapy improve this?
DKS: My lab uses various dance forms as a therapeutic tool for individuals with neurological disorders. The primary goal is to increase the quality of life by increasing cognitive function, reduction in anxiety, and enhance motor skills. The arts, in general, have driven my lab to look at broader questions and break down the components of dance to ask more general questions. We are trained to focus our investigated studies one small component as graduate students, but the use of dance has driven a whole-body wellness approach.

Q: Is there any research you would like to conduct in the future?
DKS: The connection between the physical body and mind is extremely important to understand the limitations to the level at which one can maintain a high standard of performance.  If you fall below this high physical and mental state of wellness you will become injured typically due to fatigue and overuse.  I would like to continue to investigate the role of pre-post performance anxiety on motor learning and further the depth of understanding of how various components of dance can enhance the lives of individuals with neurological disorders.

Q: How do you balance your time as a scientist and an artist in the department of dance?
DKS: I think the balance of being a professor, mentor, scientist, and an active member of the UCI community is like walking a tightrope always needing to make small adjusts to stay upright.


Dr. Kelli Sharp is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Dance at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts and is co-director of I-move in the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center. She has a joint appointment with Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the School of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine.

Dr. Sharp’s research embodies two pillars. The first pillar focuses on injury prevention and wellness for dancers using motion capture system and applying methods of analysis to determine the relationship of motion in space we can further reduce injuries. The second pillar focuses on the development of novel technologies to advance rehabilitation strategies for individuals with neurological disorders by incorporating tools, such as motion capture systems and functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) with dance/movement therapy.

Dance Escape opens on Thursday, April 19, 2018, with four performances through Saturday, April 21st. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the EVENT PAGE.

Posted Date: 
April 18, 2018
Contact Information: 

Jaime DeJong