‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ Turns 25: How the TV Star Got His Dancing Chops

Go inside Nye’s lesser-known passion

Bill Nye
Mike Windle/Getty Images

Bill Nye — the zany, beloved, bowtie-donning host of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” — has always danced to his own tune. Whether it be as an educator for the public or as an actual dance partner, Nye has always been distinctly himself.

And before his stint on “Dancing with The Stars” — one that was cut short due to injury — Nye was well known in the Los Angeles swing dance community, a resurgence of the dance craze that originated in the 1920s. He took classes and attended swing dance events frequently in the 2000s, several years after the premiere of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” in 1993, 25 years ago.

Those who danced with Nye spoke about how he perfected the science of dance and his presence on and off the dance floor.

Rusty Frank, the owner of Rusty’s Rhythm Club, spoke to the TheWrap about her former student while preparing for Camp Hollywood, a four-day swing dance camp in Los Angeles. She first met Nye in 2005 when he signed up for a four-week series, continuing classes for about a year.

Frank called Nye a “perfectionist, in a good way.” A common issue people have while dancing is the placement of their feet, Frank said, as oftentimes they can be pigeon-toed or duck-footed. To combat this, Nye got shoes that were split down the middle — one half white and the other half black — to more clearly see if they were pointed in the right direction.

Fourth-grade teacher Robin Winston recounted her time being “swing dance buddies” with Nye, and how he would practice steps until he could execute them correctly.

“I can say that the fellow that I got to know on the dance floor was the same guy that you would see on screen, he doesn’t seem to have a different persona,” Winston told TheWrap. “He’s just as goofy, but just as much wanting to get dancing right as he wants to get science right.”

Winston said her own kids grew up watching “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and she shows her current students clips from the program, specifically those having to do with earth science — volcanoes, earthquakes, metamorphic and sedimentary rock — which mesh with the curriculum.

Nye’s science background also proved helpful on the dance floor.

“He adds to any environment, because he’s so smart, and funny and quick,” Frank said. “And since most of swing dancing is based on physics, he brought a lot to the table.”

He understood how scientific concepts such as centrifugal force could be applied to dance moves. In fact, Frank said many of her students worked in scientific fields and came in with perspectives that were both technical and creative.

She said that at first, people who were familiar with Nye’s show were overjoyed when they saw him at dance events, but then “like with anybody, he became a person.”

“He’s super fun, just like his personality…and that’s the best compliment you can get when you get off the dance floor,” she said.

He was also affable when it came to fans, never turning down an autograph or a picture, Frank said. She recounted occasionally going out with him to listen to jazz music — one time they went to the Einstein exhibit and every time someone came up to him, he’d introduce her as well.

Winston said Nye stopped dancing regularly in the Los Angeles area about five years ago, saying he was part of the scene for around seven or eight years before then. He still dances in New York and now hosts the Netflix series “Bill Nye Saves the World.”