Meet Gique Mitali Kini

MIT '15, Dancer/Choreographer & Doctor of Medicine Student at Cornell University

Tell us about how you got to where you are today.

"I grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona with my parents and my older brother. Growing up, I had a strong interest in school, but was also incredibly passionate about the arts (particularly music and dance), as well as sports. Basketball and tennis were always a big part of my life. They trained me to work hard to attain a goal and to always keep a team-oriented mindset. I attribute much of my resilience and competitive spirit to my continuous involvement in athletics growing up. Aside from sports, my love for music was strong. I trained in classical piano for 14 years and simultaneously briefly trained in the violin and acoustic guitar. Music was always a significant part of my life, because it taught me how to think creatively and how to accurately interpret and express another artist’s work. It was through music- and dance- that I was best able to express myself.

I was always academically motivated. Throughout high school, science was the field for which I had the strongest interest. I loved biology, chemistry, mathematics, and particularly understanding how the systems of the human body interacted and aligned. Upon my acceptance at MIT, my decision to attend was largely based on the hope that I could contribute to biomedical research and medicine somehow through mathematics and engineering. MIT offered me the option to become a proficient researcher and to obtain a degree as a biological engineer- studying biological systems through means such as computational manipulation, synthetic design, and innovative drug development.

Although my studies at MIT had fed my passion for research and engineering over the years, I chose to become a doctor in order to further interact with and serve the people in my community. Since I was in high school, I had always loved speaking with and learning about patients in the hospital –understanding the human condition as it relates to healing and healthcare. I want to be able to apply my skills in science, research, and engineering to develop new healthcare solutions and, as a physician, better advocate for the needs of those I serve in my community (especially underserved populations)."

How has your identity as a dancer evolved with your experience as an engineering student at MIT?

"My greatest passion in life is dance. It has led me on a road to self-discovery and great happiness. I began dancing when I moved to Arizona at the age of 9. I trained primarily in hip-hop (I also did some jazz) through dance studios in my city until I was 18 years old. To me, dance and music training went hand-in-hand; dance was simply a means of composing and expressing music through my body. My dance career, which I soon began to treat as both an athletic and artistic endeavor, evolved tremendously since attending MIT. Subsets of urban dance culture are deeply rooted in Boston, and therefore dancing and training with individuals from this city has been a remarkable and life-changing experience over the years.

As a freshman, I began dancing with MIT Dancetroupe, MIT Mocha Moves, and MIT Ridonkulous crews. The years following, I sought out the opportunity to train alongside Boston-based hip-hop dancers and to continue to lead my MIT dance crews. I began dancing and competing with Boston crews PROject Nailz and the CONcept Artists, choreographed for MIT Dancetroupe and led as a captain and artistic director for both MIT Ridonkulous and MIT Mocha Moves. Through these teams, I got the amazing opportunity to compete regionally at World of Dance, Prelude, and Defining Rhythm competitions.

Being a part of a team motivates me on a daily basis, as well as being able to execute a creative vision in dance. It has always fascinated me that dancers can essentially speak a universal language through the use of their bodies. Hip-hop is just one subset of that; a unique culture that promotes the ultimate form of self-expression. With an endless combination of musical interpretations, I can create vastly different visual experiences in my choreography. As a team leader, creating new choreography routines and playing upon the strengths of my team members has been my greatest source of inspiration and artistic satisfaction – that, and the chance to perform on a weekly basis and bring joy and entertainment to an audience.

Over the past four years at MIT I conducted research in a cancer metabolism laboratory at the Koch Institute of Integrative Cancer Research. My lab focused on understanding how cancer cells specifically uptake and break down nutrients differently from normal cells in order to grow and survive. I got involved in this research my freshman year, by reaching out to professors in the field of biochemistry and oncology. My principal investigator, Matthew Vander Heiden, invited me to be a member of his lab and I worked on several different projects, which studied the cellular pathways involved in cancer metabolism through protein analysis and cell culture experiments. I have learned a lot about the scientific process and particularly about the biochemistry of cancer through my studies, inspiring me to possibly pursue oncology.

Being involved academically in the field of cancer, and having a passion for medicine, led me to become a counselor for a student group called Camp Kesem, a student-led camp for the kids of cancer patients. As a committee leader, I developed the first ever Dance-a-thon fundraiser, combining my love for dance with my desire to raise awareness for our student organization. I, along with a group of peers, organized an all-night dance marathon and invited performers and dancers (including my very own dance teams) to raise money for Camp Kesem, and promote movement and joy through dance at MIT."

Check out these videos of some of Mitali's past dance performances:

What does being a gique mean to you?

"Being a gique means embracing and seeking involvement in activities that keep you passionate daily, and not sacrificing one for another. I have come to find that there is a harmonious balance between STEM and the arts. What makes me a gique is the knowledge that my love for dance and my passion for medicine are not mutually exclusive. Rather, I notice that my creativity has been sparked daily by choreographing dance routines or playing music, which has only enhanced my creativity as a scientist in the lab or when designing engineering systems. Having confidence and a presence on stage as a performer has aided me in relating to individuals in an academic setting and in communicating my ideas more thoroughly. While I don’t dance because I am an engineer or study engineering because I dance, I know that each contributes greatly to my daily motivation and inspiration—that’s what being a gique is about!"

Any words of advice?

"Train. Throughout my years of school and artistic training, I have always told myself the following: hard work pays off. While following a dream or career goal in STEM or the arts [or both] is not easy, it is achievable through hard work and diligence. It is always important to stay goal-oriented, stay focused, and to only be involved in activities that truly inspire you. If you wish to pursue fields such as engineering, medicine, dance, or music, reach out to professionals and peers in the field. Shadowing, taking classes, and putting time into training is how we can best determine what we feel connected to and meet others who have paved the paths that inspire us! Finally, don’t be afraid to combine your love for two vastly different activities; the time you spend learning and mastering one will make you more motivated and determined while learning the other."