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There are few places creepier than a laboratory at dead of night. It's all those deep freezes, nasty chemicals, and fluorescent radioactivity signs. All too often I have been that late-night lab visitor, marching 'on-the-double' down darkened corridors to the unseen light switch at the other end. Strange how those little LEDs on refrigeration devices provide faint comfort on this most lonely of walks.

Of course, once the main lights come on, flickering at first, then dazzlingly bright, the place is transformed and you forget the darkness.

Those of us who are familiar with such out-of-hours working often find a certain melancholy in being in the lab alone. It's no fun being stuck in work when everyone else is either at home snuggled-up with their loved one or out having a good time. I am doubtless in work this late at night because I am doing an experiment, probably a particularly important or pressing one. Nonetheless, its chances of success must also be pretty high--I make a rule never to stay in very late for something that doesn't stand half a chance of producing a feel-good factor.

And there is a bonus in being alone in the lab. I would like to offer the hand of friendship to all like-minded nutters out there. You know what I'm talking about. There are more of us out there than you think, including many international stars of science I reckon. Yes, I'm referring to the more or less coordinated body movements that are 'secret lab dancing'.

For any of you who hoped this article had saucy overtones I am truly sorry. I am not a moonlighting lap dancer. But I do confess to frequently doing 'ma thang' right there in the lab. Freed from the worries of self-consciousness, dancing both lets me express myself and gives me something to do whilst waiting the endless minutes for the centrifuge to stop.

The 'if only they could see me now' angle to secret lab dancing really does offer a most welcome, if paltry, compensation for the sadness of being in work well beyond your usual packing up time. Fear of being caught in full swing by the night porter only adds to the faint air of excitement. This is, of course, rather akin to that ultimate embarrassment: being caught smiling at yourself in the mirror. Naturally, this is something I have never done.

The more astute reader will have already realised the natural extension of this idea: You are not restricted to secret lab dancing. Sure singing is tempting, but there is less of a buzz to it as it is a much more socially acceptable pastime than dancing. Hear someone singing at work and you simply smile to yourself. See someone dancing under similar circumstances and your reaction is likely to be far more forthright.

However, I know that some of you gentlemen out there are not inclined to dance, or even sing, at the best of times, so where does this leave you? Well, you could try something more manly. Secret shadow boxing or secret martial arts, for instance. I would advise against the latter though: You are massively more likely to contravene Rule 2 (see below) with this sort of behaviour.

There are, indeed, several universal rules to secret lab dancing which you break at your peril. These are:

  • Never wear headphones or turn the lab hi-fi up loud. For best results (maximum abandon induced by minimal fear of discovery) only use music prerecorded in your head.

     

  • For goodness' sake, keep well away from expensive lab equipment and anything made of glass. The out-of-hours logbook probably shows you were the only person in. Explaining away particularly unusual damage could be a bit of a problem.

     

  • Try to remain at least a little restrained; 'less' really can be 'more'. I prefer speeded up Tai-Chi-like movements to full-blown John Travolta. To me this is a residual defence strategy against being bounced by an unsuspecting colleague. In other words, you don't think you'll feel quite so daft when someone walks in on you. This is, of course, self-deluding.

     

  • Never dance near a window unless you like the risk factor of attracting the attention of night security staff.

     

  • Do not attempt to dance whilst actually performing an experiment, only whilst you are waiting for stuff. Not only would you make your Health and Safety Officer very cross, more importantly you might mess up your experiment. Get yourself a decent lab timer in case you get a bit carried away.

     

  • Even if the tune in your head is 'You can keep your hat on', never, ever succumb to the temptation to strip, even just a little bit.

     

  • If you insist of 'doing it' during the day at work, make sure you restrict yourself to short bursts of your favourite moves as these can be disguised relatively easily as stretching exercises. Do it too often and you will be rumbled. People are not stupid.

  • If you follow these simple rules you should be able to enjoy many happy years of undisturbed secret dancing. You might feel somewhat self-indulgent at first, but cut yourself some slack and live a little. You deserve it.