Jan. 22, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 8

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    For the love of dance

    By Catherine Behan
    News Office

    What does gene expression have to do with dancing?

    For Doug Wood, research scientist cum dance instructor, the link between his vocation as a scientist and his avocation as a choreographer is quite clear.

    "I think science and dance are really similar," Wood said. "In both worlds you have to take raw material and organize it in ways that make sense. There are a lot of options, but you just have to keep trying until it works."

    Wood's love of dance led him to develop both several dance classes on campus and the annual Modern Ballet Workshop performance by students. The latest addition to the courses, Airtime, which began in the fall quarter, is intended to help athletes learn dance moves that can improve their game -- and to lure more people into the dance world.

    Choreography, he says, is his way of creating art.

    "In the end, it's really nice creating these little microcosms -- it's not just dance, but the interaction of movement and pictures and the energy between different bodies and the lights. We're creating a painting with energy."

    In his life as a scientist, Wood has been Senior Research Scientist in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology for the past four years. Working full-time with Lucia Rothman-Denes, Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology, he studies how the activity of RNA polymerase, the enzyme that copies the information in the genome, is regulated. To explore mechanisms of regulation, he uses a virus as a tool.

    In addition to his full-time job, Wood teaches dance classes four evenings a week and all day Saturday.

    "I guess I have a high metabolism," he said. "To me, the dancing is exciting."

    Wood first became interested in dance while in college at the University of Iowa, when he took dance to fill a physical education requirement his freshman year. Enthralled with the art, Wood has performed and taught dance ever since; first at the University of Iowa, where he was a student and then a researcher until 1989, when he came to Chicago.

    In the years since, he created the Modern Ballet Workshop (with Bill Michel, then Director of University Theater, in 1993), which grew into Workshops in Dance, an umbrella for student-run dance classes that include tap dancing and Middle Eastern dance.

    Wood started Airtime to encourage even more students to participate in dance, particularly athletes. In Airtime, dancers practice the same kinds of moves as in ballet. In the process, Wood said, they not only dance, but improve their game. One of the skills: "Flight -- getting into the air and learning how to stay there."

    "The goal is to improve skills in your specific sport, and if you want to be in a performance as well, that's great," Wood said. "I was interested in teaching a high-energy class with people who aren't necessarily trying to be perfect dancers. I wanted people who would say what the hell, and just do it."

    Wood's dance classes are open to University students, staff and faculty. The most recent round of classes begins this week. For more information, call 278-9075 or e-mail drwood@midway.uchicago.edu.