Teaching artist Laurie Jones is a lifelong dancer, certified counselor, and commissioned corp officer in the United States Public Health Service. She is currently studying dance therapy under Moving in the Spirit’s Director of Education, Dr. Charné Furcron, who is herself a board certified dance therapist and accredited clinical supervisor to dance therapists in training.
We sat down with Laurie to discuss her love of dance, her dedication to mental health and public service, and her passion for uniting these fields in her work at Moving in the Spirit.
How did you start dancing?
Dance chose me. I started dancing when I was three or four. My parents put me in a class and I just loved it. I’ve been dancing ever since. I studied dance all throughout college and performed with Illinois Dance Theatre. I also did poms!
What is it about dance that makes you feel like it will always be a part of your life?
Dance is wonderful because it uses your whole mind and body at the same time. Your body is the instrument to create the art. A painter needs to have a canvas and brushes and various tools, but as a dancer I am the instrument and the work of art all in one. No tools required.
Why did you choose to go into the field of public health?
Growing up and seeing so many people sick in Chicago — that’s where I’m from — I thought there has to be a better way. I moved to Atlanta to get my master’s degree in public health at Emory University.
How did you end up becoming a teaching artist at Moving in the Spirit?
I saw time and time again, when I was deployed as a commissioned corp officer during public health emergencies, that there was always a need for mental health providers and we were always short on them. And so I thought, “Let me try and fulfill a need.”
Part of the requirement as I pursued my master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling was that I had to do a practicum and an internship. Around that time, I discovered and became interested in the field of dance/movement therapy. I found Charné [Moving in the Spirit’s Director of Education] through the American Dance Therapy Association website and thought “This is a person I want to study under,” and it just so happened she worked at Moving in the Spirit.
At first I was hesitant about interning here, because I had never worked with children before. But I gave it a try and I loved it! I’m so glad I put my fear aside. I’ve been a teaching artist here now since 2011.
So you have a master’s degree in public health and a master’s degree in counseling. Why continue your studies to include dance/movement therapy?
I’m drawn to the notion that dance is naturally, inherently healing and that the mind and body are connected. Dance/movement therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the cognitive, physical, social and emotional integration of the individual. Sometimes the way we treat health in Western society is that your mental health and physical health and emotional health are all separated. But really, we’re one person. So I love the concept of a modality that integrates all of the various dimensions of health and helps the person get in tune with themselves and realize that they have the power within themselves to live their best life.
Moving in the Spirit does not provide dance therapy sessions individually to students, but rather utilizes dance therapy techniques in the classroom to enhance students’ positive identity and development. How do you personally integrate dance therapy or youth development principles when you teach dance?
What I love about Moving in the Spirit is how the foundation of the program is naturally structured on dance/movement therapy principles in and of themselves. For example, every class begins with a “check-in,” a question that all students answer. This is the only place I’ve danced that does that. You can ask a check-in question that is therapeutic in nature and then lead your class into a therapeutic dance warm-up based on what you’ve learned. From there, you can integrate that information into your technique work across the floor and in your center combination.
In a regular dance studio, they’re focused on technique not on the person as a whole. At Moving in the Spirit, we want the students to grow technically as dancers, but it’s so much more. It’s about developing them as a person and a human being. I don’t see how a person could have that level of development in a traditional dance studio.
Why would you use dance therapy techniques with students who are not experiencing mental health concerns?
You don’t have to be sick to see your primary care physician. I would like people to view their mental health the same way they view their physical health. People work to prevent physical illness. The same thing applies on the mental health side.
Dance therapy is, in my opinion, a way to prevent disorders. You don’t have to have a mental health concern to participate in dance therapy. It would be similar to how someone would go to an exercise class for their physical health.
The goal is to get students integrated with all the different aspects — social, emotional, cognitive, physical — of their health. So many people don’t learn the building blocks of self health and body-mind connection growing up, because it’s not taught in schools, and they struggle as adults. I don’t want our students to have to go through that. Emotionally, physically, mentally, when they leave us they have the capacity to be able to handle whatever life brings them.
What is your proudest teaching moment at Moving in the Spirit?
In 2016, a documentary filmmaker, Hana Kamea, came to record Moving in the Spirit for her film ‘The Moving Child.’ At the American Dance Therapy Association conference last year I saw the film. I teared up watching it, because some of my young students she interviewed were students who, the first day they got to Moving in the Spirit, were so withdrawn they could barely speak to the class. And now they’re on camera and talking. Their body presence was part of it too. They had come so far.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
To know what I want and why. If you know your purpose, if you know your why, you’re going to figure out how to get it done.
Why do you keep coming back to Moving in the Spirit?
I keep coming back to teach at Moving in the Spirit because it’s where I’m supposed to be. It’s public health in action.
Laurie teaches Baby Steps and Mini Steps classes at Moving in the Spirit and is a member of our dance therapy and counseling team. She was also named Moving in the Spirit’s Volunteer of the Year in 2014. Learn more about Laurie in her bio.