Meet ‘Doctor Be Dancing,’ a Tufts Medical Center Resident Busking for Charity
Unlike many buskers you encounter on the street, Adnan Khera doesn’t actually need your money.
With a boombox in hand, Khera, a fourth-year anesthesiology resident at Tufts Medical Center, has been getting down all over the city—dressed in blue scrubs and a white doctor coat—and donates all the earnings from his busking endeavors to various charities.
“As I went through residency I noticed that there’s an enormous amount of uniformity in medicine that I feel almost stifles creative endeavors in a lot of ways,” says Khera, an Arizona native who moved to Boston a few years ago for medical school. “One of my creative outlets for showing an example of how individuality still has value—especially in medicine—is this project. You go out there, you do something you’re extremely passionate about, and show how you can make a positive impact in the community.”
Khera dubbed the project “Doctor Be Dancing” and officially kicked it off in May when he took his boombox—yes, a boombox—to Mayfair in Harvard Square. He put up a makeshift sign—fashioned with cardboard from the boombox’s packaging—that said he was donating the money to charity.
He performed for the three hours that day, and made $245 in donations.
“It was so wildly successful that I was very, very encouraged,” he says.
Now, Khera, a Roxbury resident, tries to hit the streets as often as he can—usually twice a week, in between his shifts at Tufts Medical. He’s been spotted at various places around town, from the Public Garden during EarthFest to the Greenway during the FIGMENT festival.
A recent attempt to make a comeback at Harvard Square was unsuccessful—it was too hard to find parking, he says. But he prefers Newbury and Boylston streets anyway—the foot traffic is heavy and, from what he’s experienced, people tend to be more generous there.
“You can see people smiling—even if they don’t donate, everyone seems to smile if they look at the sign and figure out what’s going on,” Khera says. “I think the culture [in regards to] buskers is to avoid eye contact—some people just look away without trying to see what’s going on. But anyone who stops to read the sign [gives] a universally positive response.”
One of Khera’s favorite interactions to date occurred on Newbury Street, when a mother encouraged her two young daughters to dance alongside him, and both girls gave him a $20 bill. The mother explained to Khera that the money had originally been given to the girls by their grandfather, to be spent on “toys or candy or whatever kids spend money on these days.”
“They decided that the experience of dancing on the street and giving to charity was worth more than buying material objects,” Khera says. “For me, personally, it hit very hard. It was a matter of, ‘Oh, this is the kind of effect that I can have on people.'”
But not all experiences have been kind. There’s the time a fellow busker accused him of encroaching on his territory (despite this unfortunate experience, Khera remains open to collaborating with fellow street performers, hoping specifically to groove with Keytar Bear), the time his boombox was stolen from his house, and the time a woman collapsed on the street and someone, seeing Khera’s white coat, asked him to check it out.
Khera has been documenting his “Doctor Be Dancing” experience on social media, as well as a website, where he’s been posting various dispatches. His website is also where he keeps a running list of charities supported to date—all neutral, mostly local, and some suggested by donors—including Cradles to Crayons, Animal Rescue League of Boston, and Community Servings. Although he initially donated money in big chunks—about $250 at a time—lately he’s been trying to switch over to donating smaller, but more regular installments, about $25 a month.
“It’s easier for them to budget money that way,” he says. “It’s harder for me to keep track, but it makes more sense from their perspective.”
As he prepares to wrap up his residency at Tufts Medical, searching for pediatric anesthesiology fellowships to follow, Khera hopes to raise $10,000 as “Doctor Be Dancing” by the end of October. In addition to busking on the streets, he organizes events, such as the upcoming “Undress to Impress” charity clothing drive party at the House of Blues on August 28. People that show up are encouraged to dress in layers, to be taken off throughout the night and donated to a local homeless shelter. The $10 cover charge will be donated to charity as well.
“I do a lot of things, which is what’s nice about ‘Doctor Be Dancing’—it really unifies a lot of aspects of my life,” says Khera, who in addition to being an anesthesiologist, dancer, and event organizer is also an avid costume designer and ultra-distance runner who’s completed three marathons, including Boston, for which he dressed up as Sonic the Hedgehog.
“There’s more to me than just ‘Doctor Be Dancing,’ and ‘Doctor Be Dancing’ is kind of like a purified idea,” he says. “It’s an example for the community to take after.”