Physicist dance bombs Stephen Hawking

So, on The Ellen DeGeneres Show they have a thing called a "Dance Dare". The basic idea: Sneak up around somebody when they aren't looking and boogie down, just outside their peripheral vision. If you're caught, stop dancing. Play casual. Wander away.

Which brings us to this video.

Krister Shalm is a postdoc in the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, Canada. He is also a swing dancer.

A couple of weeks ago, Stephen Hawking visited the University of Waterloo and Krister took the opportunity to do a Dance Dare on the esteemed physicist. The other Ellen Dance Dares are sort of club dance-y in nature, but Krister opted for a little jazz jig more fitting his personal skill set.


  1. Definitely looks like Balboa. Not sure whether it’s cool or juvenile to do it in that setting but I’m leaning towards juvenile.

  2. Maggie, I dearly love your posts, but your description was infinitely better than the event itself. Hawking was just driving by. A guy danced as he did so. There was neither rejoicing, nor notice.

  3. Pretty sure Ellen would have more class than to “dance dare” behind a physically disabled person.

      1. No, but I’d avoid forms of dancing that might be perceived as mockery. In the case of a “dance dare” performed behind the subject’s back it’s easy to come across that way, intentionally or otherwise.

        Granted, I’ve said and done many unintentionally offensive things in my own time so I bear Krister no ill will.

        1. But at some point shouldn’t it be about intention rather than the perception? I fully understand pulling it if SH was offended, but must we worry about anybody who might be offended?

          1. “at some point shouldn’t it be about intention rather than the perception?”

            People need better intentions.

  4. I am the guy who did the dancing. Here is some background:

    Stephen Hawking is a hero of mine and one of the people who has inspired me to become a physicist. Almost all of the physicists I know have a great sense of humor, including Dr. Hawking. Two years ago I missed out giving him a lab tour when he came to my lab as I could not be there. I was hoping to meet him this time he visited, but things did not work out. 

    He spoke at the opening of the new building for the Institute I work at. There were thousands of people lined up to see him. Suddenly he came down the hall I was standing in. A friend of mine was filming and I decided to dance. It was the first thing I thought of to try and show my appreciation for how much he has inspired me. From the people I know who work with Stephen Hawking directly, this is the kind of thing he finds amusing. No disrespect was ever intended in any way. I wish I had more time to think it through and plan better, but it was an on the spot decision. I love to dance and I love Physics; it seemed like the perfect fit.

    The dance move I am doing is called “Trucking.” It is a vintage Jazz step popular in the 1930s. It is no Gangam style, but it is the first thing that came to mind. It is not the greatest of dance bombs, but it is the best I could do in the situation.

    EDIT: It never crossed my mind that this might be construed by other people with disabilities as being disrespectful. I was excited, so I danced. That is what I do. The last thing I want is for someone to be unintentionally hurt by this. Is there a disability expert out there, or someone who can comment? If there is any chance it can be taken this way, I’ll take the video down. I am pretty sure SH is cool with it, but I am worried how it might make others feel.

    Edit 2: I have decided to take the video down. I in no way meant any disrespect–dancing is simply my natural way of expressing myself. I would have done the same had I encountered any of my other personal heroes in similar situations. I honestly do not believe SH would be offended by this, but I can understand how it might appear to those who suffer from disabilities. I would never intentionally hurt anyone, and if there is even a slight chance this might cause someone distress or be misinterpreted, then I would rather not have it out there. So I am taking it down. Thank you everyone for the constructive feedback.

    1. No, we got it (most of us), even without MKB’s inoculation.  This guy can mathematically prove he’s not the center of the universe. I’m sure levity is his middle name.  Or, you know…Flevity.

    2. There is more than a slight chance.  Look up and you will see it HAS been misinterpreted.  I don’t think Hawking has thin skin, but he has many concerned defenders anyway.

    3. I think people find it irritating because it’s not a respectful way to act.  If you think he is awesome, great, I agree with you.  But you used it as a place to make a spectacle of yourself.  If you want to show appreciation, give him thanks and deference.  Don’t do something you know he can’t see and then upload it.  You made the moment about yourself.

  5. I imagine Hawking is thinking (as if) how refreshing it is to be treated like anyone else. It must be a difficult life when everyone is both confused by your disability and petrified by your intelligence.

    1. I dunno.  Hawking it seems finds remarks to his disability as boring.  He has not come out as an advocate for accessibility or inclusion and does not talk about his experiences being disabled.  Remember: This guy is an old Brit.  He doesn’t want to be danced around, especially secretly.  He is an esteemed scientist.  He is highly respected. He is used to deference and respect.  I doubt he has any interest in talking to kids about their dreams. 

      It takes the guy about two minutes to speak a sentence.  I doubt he would be at all amused at the antics of a child.  At most they are boring.

      I think because of his difficulty with communication, few people really know him at all.  Instead though we can project our own views about who we imagine him to be on him.

      1. “I doubt he has any interest in talking to kids about their dreams.”  …  “Instead though we can project our own views about who we imagine him to be on him.”

  6. It’s disappointing that people presume Hawking would not have appreciated this lighthearted, joyful and human expression of dance, yet find it far more appropriate in anonmity to criticise.

    Keep on trucking I say!

    1. I find it disappointing that people would assume he wouldn’t find this irritating.  I know I would.  

      If I spent my life elevating humanity with my work, all while being severely disabled, having to exert enormous effort to even communicate, relying totally on the assistance of able-bodied people who don’t have half my intellectual capability, I might be a little irritated by children being silly behind my back.

      If you think Hawking is awesome, treat him with respect.  This was not a respectful action.

    2. “yet find it far more appropriate in anonmity to criticise”

      And how else do you suggest? Yes, people who find things inappropriate criticize via whatever means they have available. What a silly statement.

  7. It may surprise some of you who are all riled up with righteous indignation that Professor Hawking has a good sense of humour. He’s even a funny guy, you might say. I guess if you’ve never, you know, read his books, or watched the docs featuring him, then you might not know that.

    Maybe we could wait and see if he was offended by this, before we all decide to be offended on his behalf? I’d have to consider myself preeeetty smart before I deigned to think on Prof. Hawking’s behalf.


    1. He always came across as a bit irritable and impatient to my friends and me, but I guess it’s a balance between being a busy person trying to get things done in their day job, and then putting up a good show for PR appearances.

      1. Agreed. 

        Plus, I think if you’ve been stuck almost completely paralyzed and forced to talk through a computer for the past few decades, you’ve probably earned the right to be kinda cranky.

      2. Yeah me too.  I think because of his difficulty with communication people can’t tell what he’s like so they project their ideas about what they wish he was like onto them.  I think it is thought that if he were able bodied he’d be as gregarious as Feynman, but there is no evidence that this is the case. 

        1. “I think it is thought that if he were able bodied he’d be as gregarious as Feynman, but there is no evidence that this is the case.”

          He was able-bodied for quite some time? His personality was known to plenty before his condition deteriorated.

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