Ph.D. physicist takes breaks by breakdancing

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Adjunct instructor Dr. Jae Calanog breakdances in front of Mayan Hall as part of a weekly regimen that relieves stress from juggling teaching positions at Southwestern, Mesa and Grossmont College. Calanog is an award-winning breakdancer and a Ph.D. in physics. PHOTO BY Serina Duarte

Adjunct instructor Dr. Jae Calanog breakdances in front of Mayan Hall as part of a weekly regimen that relieves stress from juggling teaching positions at Southwestern, Mesa and Grossmont College. Calanog is an award-winning breakdancer and a Ph.D. in physics.
PHOTO BY Serina Duarte

Dr. Jae Calanog’s physics classes often leave his students’ heads spinning. Calanog himself often spins on his head.

Calanog is certainly Southwestern College’s only physicist – academic – break dancer. A youthful 29 years old, he is more frequently mistaken for a teenage student than recognized as a UC Irvine Ph.D.

Spinning planets in outer space are Calanog’s priority now, but he still enjoys spinning on the ground for relaxation—if hip-hop and break dance can be considered relaxing.

“I have a dance bucket list for breakdancing and I’ve done it all,” he said. “But as for teaching, that is my passion.”

After moving to San Diego County last summer, Calanog has been teaching at three community colleges.

This semester he has five astronomy classes: three at SWC and two at Grossmont College. He also teaches a physics class at Mesa College.

“Teaching has been a challenge especially because each of the schools has their own labs and equipment,” he said.

Calanog said breakdancing allows him to zone out his problems of the day.

“Since I began teaching (last) year, all I do is work, work, work,” he said.

Calanog regularly practices breakdancing at 24-Hour Fitness or in front of Mayan Hall, often with his colleague Phillip Diwa, an assistant professor of mathematics.

“I met Jae at 24-Hour Fitness through one of my students,” said Diwa. “I’m always learning new dance moves and Jae is always teaching me something new and vice versa.”

Born and raised in Manila, The Philippines, Calanog said he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1997 when he was 11, settling down in San Francisco. When he began high school, he grew interested in the rave and breakdancing scenes. He also fell in love with physics thanks to a very passionate teacher. Calanog said that is when he knew he wanted to become a teacher himself.

“Right from day one of starting college I knew what I wanted to be,” he said.

After graduating from high school, Calanog attended Diablo Valley College, where he realized that becoming a teacher was possible. He transferred to UC Berkeley in 2009 and earned a Bachelor’s degree in physics.

In 2010 Calanog started graduate school at UC Irvine. School was his number one priority, but he still found time to break dance. He became involved with B-Boys Anonymous, a UCI dance crew, and future fiancé Aizel Agustino.

“I randomly ran into him in Tokyo, Japan,” Agustino said. “That’s when we actually started to know each other and started dating. Now we’re engaged.”

After finishing his doctorate, Calanog said he was ready to teach. This new chapter in Calanog’s life meant he was going to have cut back on breakdancing, but he found a new form of music called house electronic, which doesn’t require absolute dedication. House dancers can move freely and be relaxed, whereas breakdancing is rigorous.

“House dancing is more surreal and calm,” said Calanog. “That is why I’m taking it up.”

When cooling down or when practicing by himself, Calanog he usually listens to break beats.

“Sometimes I practice to house music, but when I practice by myself I listen to a really toned down, instrumental hip-hop because it fuels my creativity,” he said.

Teaching at three different colleges has been an eye-opening experience, Calanog said.

“I’m learning something from this,” he said. “I have nothing to complain about. I should already know this as astronomy professor my problems compared to the rest of the universe are nothing compared to what everyone is going through right now.”

Life, he said, is precious and he encourages his students and colleagues to take it out for a spin.

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