By Alex Matthews
This dancer is the epitome of brains and beauty – as the professional ballet dancer is also a PhD physicist.
Merritt Moore, 29, has danced in the English National, Boston and Zurich Ballets while completing quantum physics undergraduate degrees and doctorates at Harvard and Oxford.
Despite repeatedly being told she would have to choose one path or the other, Merritt has managed to pursue both her passions.
She balances her time by studying books backstage and performing splits and other moves while working in her lab.
Merritt says her routine has earned her plenty of strange looks from colleagues.
The PhD candidate, who lives in Oxford, said: “I’ve been backstage at shows reading my science books, and my friends have often found me doing the splits on the floor while writing a paper.
“It honestly is the most comfortable position for me at times – even if I do get some strange looks.
“I’ve always believed that physics and dance have a lot in common. Focusing on physics before a performance helps me to think about the process.
“And you can certainly find elements of dance in quantum physics – its systems are constantly evolving and moving.
“Both disciplines are really complex and taxing, but they both feed into each other and help me to focus.
“It’s really nice when people tell me what I do is inspiring, but I always tell people that anyone can do it if they enjoy what they are doing enough.
“It’s definitely a case of ‘if I can do it, anyone can’.”
Merritt began dancing when she was 13-years-old and has been balancing the art with her academic studies ever since.
From a young age she had always enjoyed maths and puzzles, but found ballet a great new way to express herself.
Her parents made sure she concentrated on her education, but achieving good grades meant she could continue to dance on the side.
Merritt said: “I grew up in an academic family and my parents were adamant that education came first. If I wanted to dance I had to get good grades. A dance career was definitely a no-go.
“So I’ve been juggling the dancing and studying since I was about 13. I’m quite used to it and it does not feel anything special.
“Of course it gets tough at times, but I find I’m mostly able to prioritise what I need to do.
“If I have a show coming up I will spend a lot more time practising in the mornings and evenings, and I’ll be able to do stretches in the lab.
“If I have a paper coming up, then I’ll focus on that and maybe only do one or two hours dancing.
“Before I started dancing I was just a geeky girl who loved puzzles and maths.
“But when I discovered ballet I thought, ‘this is great, I dig this, and I don’t have to talk to anyone’.
“It was another non-verbal form of expression that was completely new to me, and I loved it.”
When she got to Harvard, Merritt was able to take a year off to dance with the Zurich Ballet Company and a second year to join the Boston Ballet.
During the winter break at Oxford she has performed with the English National Ballet, and after completing her PhD she will head off to Beijing, Edinburgh and Cuba.
Despite trying to give up dancing 10 times to focus entirely on her studies, Merritt has always found herself returning to ballet.
Even though she has worked through long 20-hour days and sometimes slept in the lab to complete her work and dancing, Merritt believes combining her two passions helps keep her relaxed.
She said: “I’ve tried to give up dancing so many times. I’ve burned my shoes and stopped training and tried to get out of shape.
“But I always find myself coming back to it. I feel so much happier when I am not just working and not just training.
“It really helps me to relax, even if there is pressure to perform in big shows.
“The favourite show I have ever done was probably when I was at Harvard.
“We were able to organise the whole thing ourselves, from the costumes to the promotional material to the show itself. It was amazing, and all our friends came to watch.
“But it is really something special to stand on the stage for a renowned ballet company.
“Once you get over the nerves you can forget everything else when you are on stage. It’s such a fantastic feeling.”