In the realm of science courses, Organic Chemistry has a reputation: Daunting. Technical. Stressful.

It’s not typically known for inspiring performance art.

But for Kurt Horney ’24, two semesters of organic chemistry sparked a creative idea: what would these lectures look like in the form of dance?  

Horney is a Dance and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology double major from Acton, California. For his senior choreography project, Horney sought to combine these two interests. The dance, entitled “Lesson 3 | Constitutional Isomers,” is based on a video lecture of the same name. In it, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Maduka Ogba writes many diagrams on the blackboard, including skeletal formulas and Lewis structures. 

To create his choreography, Horney visualized these diagrams in the form of movement. “Some of the choreography is interpretations of these diagrams, and having the dancers be very interconnected,” he said. 

The piece was performed at the annual Frameworks Dance Concert, held March 28 and 29 in Memorial Hall’s Chapman Auditorium. Nine dancers wore all-black costumes with brightly colored socks, mimicking the way molecules are depicted on PyMOL, a molecular visualization software Horney used in class. 

Nine dancers wore all-black costumes with brightly colored socks, mimicking the way molecules are depicted on molecular visualization software PyMOL.

“I always get the same question when I tell people I’m majoring in dance and biochemistry. It’s always — what do those majors have in common?

“So this piece was my way of bridging that gap, and having an answer to that question. I can bring my two passions together to create something new.” 

Kurt Horney ’24 and Assistant Professor Maduka Ogba at the Frameworks Dance Concert.

Horney had both semesters of organic chemistry with Ogba, and has been working in Ogba’s research lab for two years, studying computational chemistry reaction mechanisms.

“I was excited to see this performance come to fruition,” said Ogba. “I had no idea what to expect and wondered how Kurt would pull it off!”

Ogba himself has a background in dance, having been the captain of a hip-hop dance crew in college. “I go to Dr. Ogba for everything — to cry in his office, or ask him life advice,” said Horney.

Horney originally came to Chapman as a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major. He’d grown up dancing, but when COVID-19 shut down his dance company in his senior year of high school, he stopped. “I didn’t even know if I would continue dancing after that,” said Horney. 

Then in his sophomore year at Chapman, Horney heard about the Chapman Dance Alliance — a student organization whose dance classes are open to all. “I thought, okay, I’ll pop in and see what it’s all about,” he said. “And then I fell right back in love with dance.” 

Horney decided to add the Dance minor in the fall of his junior year. That spring, he realized that he could complete the major. “I came into the department chair’s office and presented this whole spreadsheet showing her I could finish the dance major in time… And then I kind of just dove headfirst into it!”

“I never expected to be this interdisciplinary,” continued Horney. “I just planned to do my biochem thing and be on my way! I’d had this plan since junior year of high school that I wanted to be a pharmaceutical researcher. And I continued that all the way through — then dance threw me for a loop!” 

“That’s what life tends to do,” he laughed. “But I’m not such a structured, planned person now. And I’ve really enjoyed the balance of going from lecture class to dance class.”

“Kurt’s academic journey at Chapman showcases the significance of a liberal arts education,” noted Ogba. “He has pursued various intellectual and artistic interests that may seem unrelated, but has leveraged these experiences to shape his aspirations. I am proud of him and was amazed by his skills as a dancer and choreographer at the recital.” 

After graduation, Horney is headed to New York to pursue professional dance opportunities. But he’s also applied to doctoral programs in Biochemistry — and intends to return to science “once he feels fulfilled with his dance career.” 

A video clip from “Lesson 3 | Constitutional Isomers” can be viewed on the Schmid College Instagram account

His o-chem days now behind him, Horney is currently enrolled in “BCHM 436: Molecular Genetics Lab” taught by Professor of Biological Sciences Melissa Rowland-Goldsmith. The evening of the Frameworks concert, Rowland-Goldsmith hosted the entire class for dinner, and they then walked to campus to see the performance. “Nearly every student came over,” said Rowland-Goldsmith. “Our class ended at 5 p.m., so I decided to make a night of us getting together to support Kurt.”