Ballet Training
Marcus Miller in conversation with Merritt Moore and Claudia Schreier. Courtesy National Museum of Mathematics.

Last Saturday night, I had a balletic epiphany. I wasn't in a mirrored studio taking class or even in a theater watching a performance. This luminous ray of understanding beamed into—wait for it—the basement of a math museum.

The National Museum of Mathematics (yes, that exists) hosted its fourth Quadrivium, a salon focusing on the intersections of music and math last Saturday in New York City. The evening's special guests were none other than ballerina Merritt Moore and choreographer Claudia Schreier.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by James Glader, Courtesy Merritt Moore.

"I'm quitting dance." Freelance dancer Merritt Moore has said this twice: before a high school year abroad, and after a year away from Harvard University to dance with Zurich Ballet. Luckily, the statement didn't stick, and Moore has successfully forged her own path—combining physics and ballet.

At 15, Moore had only been dancing for two years, but already felt disillusioned. "This whole idea of perfection—it was a bit negative," she says. A Los Angeles native, Moore decided to spend her junior year of high school in Viterbo, Italy, a tiny town near Rome. Since she wasn't dancing, Moore went to a local gym, where she met former National Ballet of Romania dancer Irina Rosca. The two started an intensive training regimen, and Moore returned to the States with a renewed love of dance but no professional aspirations.

She began her freshman year at Harvard in 2006 with her major already in mind. "I always knew I wanted to do physics. It's a nonverbal activity, like dance. You have to use creativity and imagination to problem-solve." The school also had plenty of dance opportunities through its student-run club, allowing Moore to take technique classes from Damian Woetzel and Heather Watts while still performing.

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

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.

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