Interview with Pramodh Yapa, Winner of the 2018 "Dance Your PhD" Contest

Photo Credit: Matthias Le Dall

Photo Credit: Matthias Le Dall

We wanted to follow-up our story on Pramodh Senarath Yapa the winner of the 2018 “Dance Your PhD:” video with more details on the production. So we caught up with Pramodh and asked him to share how they made this epic, three-act extravaganza. Here’s what he shared with us.

On Preparing for the Video

“The video that was submitted to the Dance Your PhD competition was made in about 6 weeks, starting in January 2018, but the original idea was spawned much further back! It started off as some lyrics I wrote on my phone while riding the bus to the University sometime in 2016, where I imagined introducing a Cooper pair as a couple of swing dancing electrons. This initial note kept getting longer on subsequent bus rides, and by the time it came to actually make the video I had a LOT of notes about it.

“For a little background, I originally made the video for an annual research festival thrown by the University of Victoria called IdeaFest, which had a creative showcase called 'Express Your Thesis' that was directly inspired by Dance Your PhD. When I got the e-mail asking for submissions, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to make the video for both competitions.”

The Production Process

“I started off by pitching it to two good friends in the swing dancing community; Jody Boyko, who is founder-member of the Seaside Swing Dancing group in Victoria, BC, and Chelsea Dunning, a swing dancer and fellow physicist at the University of Victoria. Once I had a rough draft of the music written, we met up at Jody's house and came up with the initial choreography for the 3 acts.

“After that it was an iterative and collaborative process: we put a word-of-mouth call out to our swing dancing friends, and did two rehearsals. Pretty much all of the dancers in the video are UVic Students and part of the dance community at Red Hot Swing. We got feedback from the larger group on the choreography and music, and fine-tuned both based on that. I was busy re-writing the music at this point, so I let Chelsea and Jody take care of updating the choreography and they did an amazing job translating my ideas!”

How to Integrate Swing Moves into the Piece

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“Doing the Shorty-George for the electrons in a normal metal was Jody's idea, and it just seemed a fun way to represent the flow of electricity. Using Balboa for the Cooper Pairs for when they're close together, and Lindy for when they're further apart was a very natural choice as it actually does represent what the electrons do in my research - just like on actual dance floor, electrons take up way more space on the superconducting dance floor when their connection is far apart than when they're doing bal!”

Biggest Challenges

“The hardest part of the production was coordinating everything - I had never done anything on this scale this before, so making sure we had rooms booked, lights rented, props made and cinematography figured out was a bit frenetic. Having the entire cast and production crew being my friends made it much easier, and they were incredibly patient and willing to help with all of the above. Gotta love the swing dancing community for being willing to help out with such zany ideas!”

Who Was Involved

“I want to thank the dancers in the video in particular: Eden Wallis, Amanda Nielsen, Gabrielle LePage, Jonathan Sharman, Kirsten Mathison, Nic Annau, Zoey Warmerdam, Ryan Kim, Rowan Tevya, Erin Kyle, Owen Paetkau, Beatrice Gentili-Hittos, Bruce Shaver and Sam Schoen were amazing to work with and direct! Also thanks to my cinematographer, and Post-Doc in my former research group, Dr. Matthias Le Dall for all his work with story-boarding and filming! And thanks to Kacie Rose Williams and Graeme Niedermayer for doing such an amazing job with the props - the handmade signs and the big thermometer were such big hits!”

Thanks to Pramodh Senarath Yapa for sharing your experiences and insights with us! Enjoy the $1,000 and major geek cred. Follow Pradmodh’s science-y and dance-y adventures on his instagram @yapapramodh.