Once Considered Becoming an Exotic Dancer
Tyson may have earned a master's degree in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin in 1983 and entered a doctoral program the following year, but he wasn't all work in the Lone Star state. He joined the university's wrestling and rowing teams, and was a member of the college's ballroom dance team. While he studied a variety of styles -- jazz, ballet and Afro-Caribbean -- he made his mark as a Latin ballroom dancer. In 1985, he won a gold medal when the UT dance team took first in a national Latin ballroom tournament [source: Cahalan].
Like most graduate students, Tyson was short on money. A few of his fellow male dancers began showcasing their skills in Chippendale-like clubs for extra cash, and Tyson, who described himself as "flexible from having danced and ... pretty cut from having wrestled," became intrigued. He went to a club to see them in action.
"They came out in jockstraps having been soaked in lighter fluid, asbestos jockstraps, ignited, coming out dancing to Jerry Lee Lewis' 'Great Balls of Fire,'" he said later. "I'm embarrassed to say that it wasn't until that moment when I said to myself, 'Maybe I should be a math tutor'" [source: NPR].