A Doctor and a Dancer

As a cancer researcher, Kimberly Stegmaier, MD, says her chosen profession offers “the mystery and excitement of discovery.” And she says the same is true of her passion outside the laboratory: dance.

“It’s a huge hook for me,” she says. Both in scientific research and in working on a dance piece, Stegmaier explains, “You start out testing a hypothesis or an idea, and you don’t know what the results will be. The magic of that unfolding is wonderful.”

At Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, Stegmaier heads a laboratory that uses genomic technologies to search for potential protein targets within cancer cells and new drugs to treat cancers afflicting children. Interested in both medicine and dance from an early age, Stegmaier trained at the New York Dance Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet Schools and has performed with the New York Dance Theater, the Fedicheva Ballet Company, the Chapel Hill (N.C.) Ballet Company, Ballet Theatre of Boston, and the Cambridge Chamber Ballet.

She decided against pursuing a dance career in favor of an academic education that led to medical school and reflects, “Perhaps, because it never became my full-time job, I have been able to dance longer. My passion of for dancing has never dimmed.”

Although she says it’s been harder to find the time since the birth of her second child, she currently studies at Green Street Studios and the Dance Complex in Cambridge and performs with the Cambridge Chamber Ballet.

Stegmaier says dance offers an important counterpoint to her intense work with children with cancer as well as the demands of the laboratory:  “The ballet world is an emotional outlet. It’s a place where the intensity of being a pediatric oncologist can be directed in a different, very expressive way.”

Rather than solo dance performances, she prefers the pas de deux where “the success depends on both people working well together, each anticipating the other’s next move.” Likewise, both clinical care and laboratory research succeed only when people work well together.

In 2010 she shared with three other Dana-Farber physician-scientists a $750,000 grant from Stand Up To Cancer for cancer research.

In March, 2012, she received a $100,000 bridge grant from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. This research project focuses on searching for new therapies for patients with Ewing sarcoma, a cancerous tumor involving the bone and/or adjacent soft tissues.

Even with the demands of her research, clinical work, and family life, Stegmaier finds it critical to maintain her dancing where she can indulge in the “sheer physicality” of the lunges, leaps and pirouettes.

“It’s the dancer’s high – I love that!”