Web Exclusives: On the Campus

September 26, 2007:

Summer sweat and study

By Laura Fitzpatrick ’08

Ballet classes everywhere share certain hallmarks: simplicity, sweat, and lots of steps with French names. But each studio has its own character. This summer, members of diSiac Dance Company (including this writer) bridged the gap between two dance worlds, traveling by Dinky from the gym space in Dillon to the dance capital of the world. With vastly different training backgrounds, each found a personal rhythm in New York City.

For Philip Grace ’08, who had never danced before coming to Princeton, the city represented an opportunity. “I decided that [taking classes there was] the only way I would begin making some serious progress within an art form I have only just recently become incredibly passionate about,” he said. When he had time off from working at the manuscript library on campus, Grace took hip hop, jazz, and house classes at Broadway Dance Center.

One highlight was a class taught by Nick Lazzarini, winner of the first season of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance?, one of Grace’s favorite shows. “Being in that class was akin to skydiving with a bed sheet for a parachute,” he said. “But it was nonetheless one of the most amazing dance experiences I’ve had.”

Virginia Byron ’10, who trained seriously in ballet throughout high school, relished standing toe-shoe to toe-shoe with hot shots in the city. Feeling her plies a little stiff after a year at college and looking to get back in top form, she enrolled in American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) three-week summer intensive program for college students. Byron said she appreciated the intense training, but added that in other ways Princeton has its advantages. Because each piece at ABT was rehearsed by a professional instead of by fellow dancers as at school, she said, “the dancers had no part in the creative process.” She added that the atmosphere was competitive instead of passionate. “In diSiac we help each other out and encourage and support the other members. It’s not quite like that in the ballet world,” she said wryly.

Colleen Poynton ’09, an alumna of the same ABT program, took most of her ballet and modern classes this year at the Alvin Ailey studios. Dancing, she said, was the perfect end to long days working at the Project for Public Spaces, an urban design and city planning firm. She said that the common love of the art is what bridges the gap from Princeton. “You still get the wonderful sensation of sharing something you're passionate about,” she said, “with a group of people who feel the same.”  


THE THESIS is a Princeton institution, but for every crop of rising seniors it is a new and scary proposition.A group of hardy academic souls met the challenge head-on, spending the summer doing research to jump-start their writing. 

Laura De Silva, an English major and winner of the A. Scott Berg funding for senior thesis research, spent six days near Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, Fla., during the annual Hemingway Days festival. Her thesis will explore “the way novels themselves can take on cultural identities divorced from their contents,” she said, through the lens of Hemingway’s work. “How do we construct, or reconstruct, his memory?” She found one quite literal answer to that question: the droves of look-alike contestants who make an annual pilgrimage to the festival. “The winner is crowned ‘Papa,’ ” De Silva noted, after Hemingway’s famous nickname.

Jon Monk, a chemical engineer, stayed on campus, working with Ron Weiss, associate professor of electrical engineering, on synthetic biology research. Their goal was to use the principles of engineering to design biological systems, and specifically to design a system to detect and destroy cancer cells. “We are still trying to perfect the cancer detection system and to ensure that it’s foolproof,” Monk said, adding that initial results have been promising.

Now that Monk has learned all the necessary lab techniques and logged some hours with Weiss, his adviser, he says he feels much more prepared to tackle his thesis.   Gradual progression is key, he’s discovered. That was also the case in the kitchen, where he and his roommates made great strides in cooking. “We progressed from macaroni and cheese to spaghetti and even Indian curry,” he boasted.

Sebastian Urday, a chemistry major and one of the roommates behind the cooking, spent his time on campus doing experimental research under chemistry adviser Istvan Pelczer, senior spectroscopist, and assistant molecular biology professor Manuel Llinás. He examined how the metabolism of the deadliest malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, changes throughout its 48-hour life cycle. Urday said his summer work let him test different experimental models, producing useful data for his thesis. The hard part isn’t getting started anymore; now, he said, “I am most nervous about getting done.”


By Laura Fitzpatrick ’08

Photo by Hyunseok Shim ’08