Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Science graduate gives up lab work for belly-dancing

By Neil Sears
Last updated at 7:14 PM on 18th August 2008

Armed with a degree from Cambridge University, Emma Chapman swiftly won a job as a scientist.

For four years she has been carrying out ground-breaking research into the structure of molecules in a bid to create new medicines.

But now she has decided to swap her lab coat for a sequined skirt and a new career as a belly-dancer.

And although she has taken a pay cut, Miss Chapman says she had no regrets about deserting her test tubes so she can wiggle her middle six nights a week.

Miss Chapman, who earned a 2:1 degree in Natural Sciences at Christ's College, Cambridge, said: 'Belly-dancing gives me the freedom to be who I want.

'It's just so much more enjoyable than being in the lab. I can't imagine going back to a nine-to-five job.'

Miss Chapman, 28, who lives in Cambridge, started belly-dancing in 1998 when she saw a class advertised and decided to give it a go.

The hobby soon became a passion, and after years of perfecting her technique she started teaching classes, which she found much more fun than her day job.

'A friend of mine who lived locally and taught classes was moving away and asked me to take over her teaching,' she said.

'I though I couldn't do both my lab job and the classes, so I ditched my full-time job. It was slightly scary because I had no idea if it would work, but it's been totally exhilarating.'

And although leaving her job in medicinal chemistry at leading pharmaceutical research company Cambridge Biotechnology has led to a fall in income, she says the personal benefits are huge.

Emma now teaches other aspiring dancers six nights a week and says she could not imagine returning to chemistry

Miss Chapman added: 'I love being able to run my own business and make my own decisions. I've got much more independence.

'I'm not the kind of person who likes being told what to do.'

Miss Chapman has been fully supported in her career change by her fiance, Dr Patrick Driscoll, 28, an auditor studying to become an accountant, and her father Malcolm Chapman, 60, a retired purchaser in the petrochemicals industry.

And no-one at her laboratory expressed any surprise about her decision to give it all up either.

'If they thought anything was funny about it they didn't say anything to my face,' said Miss Chapman.

'My dad is really proud that he has a daughter with her own business - he always shows my website to all his friends,' she said.

'And I'm sure some people thought I was mad doing this, but now my friends think it's really cool.'

Miss Chapman, who has more than 100 students, said belly-dancing has become hugely popular, and all her classes for September are already booked up.

She teaches private lessons at weekends in addition to her weeknight classes, and has to practise for at least one hour every day to keep her standards up.

But she does not miss science despite devoting eight years of her life to it.

'I am so much happier now,' she said. 'I did enjoy studying science at university but this is just so much more fun.'

And Miss Chapman said that while belly-dancing is not a difficult hobby to pick-up, perfecting the art can take time.

'All the movements are based on our bodies natural range of motion, so most people take to belly-dancing pretty quickly,' she said.

'But getting really good needs lots of effort and practice - which is why I have to practise every day.

'I really hope I can inspire more people to get involved with belly-dancing - it's such a brilliant skill to have.'

Emma spent four years studying at Christ's College and four years as a research scientist before setting up her own belly-dancing business. Here she is at her degree ceremony:

Miss Chapman spends most of her time as a belly dancer teaching - with ten lesson courses starting at £55 - but is a member of actors' union Equity and performs professionally too.

She is mainly influenced by the modern Egyptian style of belly-dance, but also enjoys creating dramatic dances that draw on Flamenco, Oriental and Gothic styles.

Next month she is due to appear at the Arts Depot in north London in a one-off show entitled Arabian Dance Theatre.

Miss Chapman earned between £20,000 and £30,000 as a scientist - and now earns less as a belly dancer.

'Scientists are not very well paid considering the amount of training they do,' she said. 'Belly dancers are even less well paid - but this career change wasn't about money.'

She added that although when she was working as a scientist she spent her evenings belly-dancing, now that she is a belly-dancer she does not conduct experiments in her spare time.

And she is not the first scientist to leave the laboratory for a profession requiring very different skills.

Four years ago molecular biologist Dr Karl Gensberg abandoned his post at Birmingham University to retrain as a plumber in a bid to double his annual salary of £23,000.

He said: 'I just thought "what am I doing?" My work is a combination of zero career structure, contractual abuse and pathetic pay, which is a pretty poor package.'

Source: Mail Online

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