Santa Barbara’s dancers are so freakin’ cool. Seriously.
We know that Santa Barbara dancer divine Jatila van der Veen moves seamlessly through our dance community – Middle Eastern Dance, Burlesque, Zumba, Hip Hop… she even does ballroom dance competitions (and wins!).
But did you know that she also moonlights as a super brainy physics guru? Maybe you did. Maybe you know her under one of her aliases: Ph.D., Project Scientist for the Experimental Cosmology Group in the Department of Physics at UCSB, Project Manager of Education and Public Outreach for the Planck Mission for JPL/NASA, Lecturer at the College of Creative Studies, at UCSB, and Adjunct Professor of Astronomy, Santa Barbara City College…
Dance and big time science. Two totally separate worlds, right? Not for Jatila. She’s like a sci-fi heroine. She MELDS worlds. And this summer she’s using her superpowers to help kids.
Jatila will be teaching at Notre Dame’s Art 2 Science Camp -- an outreach program funded by the National Science Foundation through the University’s Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics. The camp is designed to introduce kids to science through the arts. (Why didn't they have this when I was growing up?)
Three years ago the camp’s director Dr. Micha Kilburn found a paper Jatila had written called “Draw Your Physics Homework? Art as a Path to Understanding in Physics Education.” She reached out to Jatila and asked her to teach a dance component for the Art 2 Science Camp. That first summer she had six groups of campers (ages six through eleven) and classes were taught in a chemistry lecture hall. The groups did vignettes about famous scientists who all suffered in some way (gender or color prejudice or physical disabilities) yet overcame their difficulties. On the last day, the kids performed the vignettes.
Here’s a photo of Jatila teaching a group of nine-year old campers about Kent Cullers, the blind SETI radio astronomer. (Cullers provided the inspiration for the blind scientist character in the movie Contact.)
The dance program was so successful that the dance program has now moved into a large theater complex on the Notre Dame campus. The kids have a 90-minute technique class with Jatila in the morning, followed by a lesson in one of the various theater “labs” where they learn about the physics of theater production: light, film, sound (they even study the physics of the theater’s pipe organ). After lunch they have a physics class with one of the physics professors, and then they rehearse all afternoon. And on Friday afternoon, the campers perform.
Here's a photo of Jatila at teaching at the camp in 2013. She’s on the desk, teaching Michael Jackson's Beat It choreo for a vignette on mathematician Emmy Noether (one of Einstein’s contemporaries whose mathematics allowed Einstein to complete his General Theory of Relativity). Noether suffered pervasive discrimination because she was a woman:
Those campers who don't want to dance (what?) are invited to help with the stage craft, working side-by-side with the tech people. Last year campers designed the lighting for the production and ran the tech without missing a single cue.
Check out last year's production of “The Real Big Bang Theory - A Cosmological Dance” (scroll down the page for the video): CLICK HERE. The production was an enormous success. Here’s a quick photo of Jatila and some campers in the theater’s lobby after the show.
This year’s production will be: "Symmetry and String Theory: The Search for Nature's Deepest Secrets." We’re looking forward to seeing photos and videos of your superpowers in action this summer, Jatila!!