Perpetual motion, a dancer’s approach to physics
Senior Emilia Schempp’s journey at Southeast has her attempting the improbable — balancing both sides of the brain as a double major in physics and dance.
There were many factors that drew the Normal, Illinois, native to Cape Girardeau, but the main reason for her choosing Southeast as her place of study was the ability to pursue both degrees. Many larger universities were not keen on the idea of her studying both at the same time. The cost differential appealed to her as well.
“Even though I lived a couple blocks away from Illinois State [University], it was cheaper to come here, live in the dorms and have a meal plan than to stay at home where I could walk to school and not have a meal plan or anything,” Schempp said. “Another huge reason was that they would let me double major, they would let me do both physics and dance; other schools I was looking at were not interested in me doing both.”
The dual degrees Schempp is pursuing is a Bachelor of Arts in dance and a Bachelor of Science in physics.
Along the way, Schempp has received guidance from two advisors at Southeast, assistant professor of dance Hilary Peterson and professor of physics Margaret Hill.
“[Emilia] is one of my advisees, so I help to guide her through her college career path,” Hill said. “Right off the bat, I saw that she grasped things very quickly.”
Looking to combine her two majors in some capacity, Schempp is doing research with Hill on the physics of dance. Currently they are examining friction between dancer’s shoes and the marley floors they perform on.
Another way Schempp is looking to connect the two worlds is by studying the contact forces dancers encounter when leaping or coming down off pointe.
They plan to analyze the coefficient of friction between the marley floor in studios and on stage and dance shoes. Variables to the research could be pointe shoes compared to flat shoes, and how the floor’s surface can be manipulated.
Schempp already has completed a project involving the two, as she teamed with professor of physics Michael Cobb to develop a poster on the physics of dance.
“We had a photoshoot and everything and he drew all the force vectors and analyzed different dance movements through the eyes of physics,” Schempp said.
After bringing dance to physics with the assistance of Cobb, Schempp looked to bring physics to dance when tasked with a choreography class project and given the freedom of her imagination.
She chose five dancers and looked to create a piece that portrayed Newton’s Cradle, with the five hanging mass pendulums.
This semester, Schempp wants to continue the same idea and see what else she can do.
“I did that project last semester, and just tried to physicalize that thing on the dancers that I had,” Schempp said. “I want to see what other kinds of interactions I can create with the five [now four] dancers that I have.”
Having to split senior-level coursework between the River Campus and physics department has pushed the boundaries of time management for Schempp, but with a tight schedule and a passion for both, she has found a way.
“Sometimes it’s really difficult, to be honest. Because I’m one of those people who want to give 100 percent to what I’m doing,” Schempp said. “My first two years at SEMO were really difficult because it is so hard to be in both places at once. To commit to doing everything for physics when I have rehearsal every night for dance — it’s definitely a balancing act.”
A great deal of Schempp’s success comes thanks to her time management skills and supportive faculty. Her professors recognize she is committed to both majors and doing everything to her best on both fronts.
Her passion for both fields shines through to her professors, and they try to work with her as best as possible.
“It’s hard to balance both of them, and there was a point in time where I was like, ‘I think I want to drop one of them down to a minor and just continue with the other,’” Schempp said. “I talked to both [Peterson and Hill] and they both were like, ‘No.’ They both said, ‘We need you to do both. It makes you so unique. And you’re going to regret it if you do drop one of them.’”
Because of the unique nature of her two majors, Schempp claims she feels like an outsider at times. Her physics friends don’t seem to understand she still has shows and rehearsals after they are done with a unit of physics. On the other hand, her dance friends don’t understand she has homework to do every night, including the weekends, and that she has to study to maintain good grades and understand what is going on in her classes.
“Understanding, for other people, what goes on in my life is hard,” Schempp said.
For others, they realize the amount of work Schempp does and recognize it.
“People are pretty amazed [by her],” Hill said. “Even the rest of the physics majors are pretty amazed, just because they know how much time and energy it takes to do physics. And here she is, balancing something totally different, and from another venue. So, they think she’s pretty talented all across the board.”
What has impressed Hill about Schempp is her ability to tackle a male dominated field while maintaining her femininity.
“What’s discouraging to me has been the lack of females in physics,” Hill said. “It’s good to have females as role models, and [Emelia] is a beautiful one. She shows you can be a female and do female things like dance and be who you want to be, who you are, and still do physics.”
On the dance side of things, Schempp feels most proud to have been in every dance concert production since she has been at Southeast. Of her favorite productions, 2017’s Fall for Dance production tops the list.
“I was definitely showcased,” Schempp said. “I got to do what I love, classical ballet, which was cool. We haven’t really done that to its full extent since I was a freshman, so that was really cool.”
As she prepares for graduation in May, Schempp is looking to get into a graduate program where she can combine both her interests, likely in a biomechanics field of study. On her list of possible graduate schools is the University of Madison-Wisconsin, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, the University of Arkansas, ISU and her most likely choice, the University of Memphis.
Although her focus is on her studies post-graduation, Schempp has not ruled out continuing performing.
“I think it’d be awesome to keep performing,” Schempp said. “That’s definitely in the back of my head, to audition for things if they come up and if it comes my way. But academics have always been my strength, so that’s something that’s always been my focus.”
Regardless of where she ends up, Schempp knows there is a balance that she will need to find. And if there is one thing she can do, she can certainly find her balance.