Tuesday, September 30, 2014

DANCING DINOSAURS WITHOUT BONES: My husband is more than a presenter...he is a dancing ichnologist!

DANCING ABOUT DINOSAURS. Anthony Martin, my husband, dances the presentations of his book, Dinosaurs Without Bones. He is essentially, the dancing ichnologist! (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Hallelujah for husbands who are smart, playful, and expressive! Hallelujah for creative science communicators, especially ones who write about ichnology and interpret behavior in the fossil record! Hallelujah for the dancing ichnologist in my life!

Yes, I am talking about Tony Martin, paleontologist, ichnologist, educator, artist, and author of Dinosaurs Without Bones. He is my husband, and simultaneously, he is one of the most terrific science speakers I know!

Even if you subtract points for marital bias, there is no disputing that Tony Martin is one of the most entertaining of paleontological presenters, and that his audiences adore him! Since his book, Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed by Their Trace Fossils, was released in Spring 2014, he has been energetically giving presentations in a variety of venues. Each time, his presentations morph to fit the particular situation. However, one thing remains the same--he continues being the dancing ichnologist. Only he gets better and better!

Here are a few examples of his diverse speaking engagements in our beloved state of Georgia: 
EMORY UNIVERSITY BOOK STORE. Speaking to his academic community on the Emory Campus in Atlanta, Georgia, and only a short walk downhill from his office in the Department of Environmental Sciences, Tony is able to speak without a microphone and podium. He almost appears like a visionary as he waves to light streaming in from the window. One day, the entire world will know what the term "ichnology" means! (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
TELLUS SCIENCE MUSEUM. Some might consider this dancing ichnologist a rare sight! However, strolling like a fashion model (here on the stage of the Tellus Science Museum) has become surprisingly routine for Tony. He likes to demonstrate the stride of a theropod dinosaur to his audiences, which range in age from five-year-old children to senior citizens. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
MOON RIVER BREWING COMPANY, SAVANNAH, GEORGIA. At Moon River's pub garden, set on a busy street in one of Georgia's beautiful coastal cities, Tony resourcefully used fiddler crab antics and other choreographed dances to illustrate an alligator, sandhill crane, raccoon, and other animals that reside on our state's barrier islands to talk about another book he authored (Life Traces of the Georgia Coast), along with Dinosaurs Without Bones. The audience loved him! Many who had come to Moon River for an evening out with the family became intrigued listeners and, more than likely, learned something about modern and ancient ichnology. See Tony's blog post about this event and more photos at his website, Life Traces of the Georgia Coast. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Just when I thought the ichnologist in my life had danced all his moves during a presentation about Dinosaurs Without Bones, I was pleasantly and delightfully surprised! Last week, when we went to Georgia College in Milledgeville, my Chiboogamoo (my nickname for Tony) rose to new heights in his performance. 

I gasped as he ran past me where I was seated in the front row and down the aisle towards the rest of his audience demonstrating the theropod stroll. The fingers on his hands split to form theropod digits and he moved with speed and ferocity! Oh my!

After that, he squatted to demonstrate the nesting dinosaur, Troodon, staying true to its theropod arms and digits.
When the question-and-answer period came around, Tony enthusiastically embraced his audience's excellent questions. What ichnologist would resist dancing the answer to this question: 

"How can you tell how fast a dinosaur is moving?"

Not Tony Martin! No, he wakes up each morning, hankering for this challenge to communicate the science of dinosaurian ichnology using his physicality. Here are two photos illustrating his moves (there could have been many more):
DINOSAUR HIP HEIGHT. Here Tony is using his hand to show hip height, which can be calculated for dinosaurs by measuring their footprint lengths and multiplying that number by 4. Notice how he is also striding, to show how his hip height relates to how far he can step without running. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
LONG DINOSAURIAN STRIDES SHOW SPEED. With his arms, he now gestures the distance between the dinosaur's tracks: the farther apart its tracks, the faster the dinosaur was moving! Isn't math fun, especially when it is danced? (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
When the audience was sated with the dancing explanations of ichnologist Tony Martin, we all progressed to the paleontological art exhibit, "Cruisin the Fossil Freeway," featuring art by Ray Troll and writing by Kirk Johnson. There, audience members remarked about Tony's energetic presentation. One retired Georgia College professor speaking to me at the reception (pictured with Tony, left), praised Tony for his physical eloquence. Together, we coined the expression "dancing ichnologist"! Dancing science speakers spur all kinds of creativity and collaboration!

Before concluding the festive paleontologically-themed evening, I asked my science communicating husband and his support team that night to pose for a group photo. Enthusiasm is contagious! Science communicators can connect with their audience members in all kinds of rewarding and effective ways. Creativity enlivens any community! Look at the photo below to see the evidence for yourself!
SUPPORT TEAM ICHNOLOGY. It takes a village to host a dancing ichnologist! Milledgeville was a warm, friendly city and the Georgia College campus welcoming. Tony's enthusiasm was contagious! (photo by reception hostess)
Let's embrace "dancing" as one of the tools in a science presenter's toolbox, or at least a speaker who has "embodied" his knowledge and uses physicality to express his ideas and connect with listeners.
DANCING ABOUT DINOSAURS. Tony, embracing his book, Dinosaurs Without Bones, and me, Hallelujah Truth, in front of artwork by Ray Troll on the opening night of the exhibit, "Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway," at Georgia College. As you can see from the bend of his knee, he is still dancing after his presentation and while at the art opening (photo my kind person).
That's Coffee with Hallelujah. SOUL BLOG with me about your dances with dinosaurs, science, or any field of life you enjoy pirouetting in!

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thanks to Sheila Collins, for her book performances using the improvisational tools of InterPlay of Warrior Mother and how she has opened our eyes to a new way of communicating books to audiences.


  1. Spectacular blog Ruth. About a decade ago, I saw Tony give a talk at a Geological Society Meeting about a famous trace fossil that had been used as evidence for tail dragging in dinosaurs. By systematically, explaining how the traces were made an even acting out the behavior, Tony successfully convinced his audience that this particular trace fossil was not evidence of tail dragging but rather the creature taking a moment to sit before moving onward. Almost a decade later, that talk still sticks in my brain as the best GSA talk ever. Thank you for once again reminding me, how joyful it can be to watch Tony present his science.

  2. Trish! Thanks for helping accumulate stories about this dancing ichnologist and how useful his antics are for communicating science! You have demonstrated that his "dances" are indeed memorable. Your remarks are greatly appreciated.