Teaching artist Hannah Alexander recently graduated from Kennesaw State University with a BA in dance and a minor in psychology. In the future, she intends to pursue a Master’s degree in dance and movement therapy, which she will use to help women recover from abuse and trauma and transform into their best selves.
We sat down with Hannah to discuss a lifetime in dance, how she used dance to recover from an abusive relationship, and her belief in the healing and transformative power of movement.
How did you become a dancer?
Growing up in Macon, GA, I went to a “spirit-filled” church, which incorporates dancing and theatre and all kinds of things like that. I started dancing at my church and my dance instructor actually told my mom that if I liked to dance, she would recommend putting me into dance class along with dancing in church. So, that’s what my mom did. I’ve been dancing since I was 3 and I’ve loved it. I even tried soccer and all the other sports and my mom told me that I was either doing my teammates’ hair or cheerleading for the team.
What inspired you to pursue dance and movement therapy?
I was in an abusive relationship when I was a senior in high school, going into my freshman year in college, so for my personal testimony, I overcame that through dance. After I came out of it and was able to think clearly for a while, I realized that since this (dance) was something that helped me, it could help other people. So, I started researching and I knew that there had to be something dance-related out there that can help people; I’ve always had a desire to help others. I came across dance therapy and it was like the lightbulb went off. I knew that this was it, this was what I wanted to do. Ever since then, I’ve been super passionate about it and finding Ms. Charne (Dr. Charne Furcron) was the best thing because she’s a pro at all the things that I love and want to do. I’m hoping that I can really help people who’ve been through abusive or other traumatic situations through movement.
Looking back now, people are surprised that I was so young when I experienced that abusive relationship, but I really am thankful for that experience because, without that, I don’t think I would have found my purpose. I really feel like my purpose is to help women, in particular, who have been through those situations, and who just feel helpless, as though there’s nothing else out there for them. That’s why I’m here, to help those women.
Why do you teach?
Ever since I was little I thought that teaching was not for me, that it wasn’t my calling. My mom is a teacher and I grew up being around her. I would always go to her choir concerts and sit in with her classes after school since she would always have rehearsal. I was so sick of it. But, then I started helping out around my ballet studio where I grew up. I’ve always loved school and I like knowledge, so, being able to share knowledge and help people gain knowledge, show people that learning can be fun, that was the moment when I realized that I could do this teaching thing. I think that, especially as a dance therapist, you have to have your therapist hat, but also your teacher hat, and then your dancer hat. Ms. Charne has taught me a lot about how to wear the different hats. I think that my teaching experience will serve a crucial role when I’m a therapist.
I also love watching kids find their own artistry, find their own reason why they love dancing. That’s so rewarding from a teacher’s perspective, seeing that in your students.
What has been your proudest/most exciting moment as a teacher?
This has nothing to do with dancing, but I always come back to it. In one of my classes last year, we would give our students goodies at the end of the week if they had earned all of their points. They had to have two tickets and then they could get a treat from the treat basket. This one little boy touched my heart. He saved up all of his treats from the whole semester and at our last meeting before break, which was my last class with them because I was going to be interning with a new class the next semester, he proceeded to pass out the treats he saved up to the other children in the class. What the class didn’t know, though, was how selfless this gesture was, given that this little boy had a hard home life. It touched me so deeply that I cried on the phone with my mom after class. That will be something that I remember forever as a teacher because it just reminds me just how thankful I need to be for the things that I have and the things that I’m given.
What is your proudest/most exciting moment as an artist?
I went to Tel Aviv, Israel this past summer with the KSU Dance Company and we visited the Batsheva Dance Company. Ohad Naharin, the company’s artistic director, is the creator of the Gaga movement style. It was incredible to meet him. I got to dance with him and watch his company move. It’s absolutely breathtaking, the way that these dancers move. I really like Gaga because you don’t have to be a dancer to do it, which I think really helps in therapy. Not everyone you come across is going to have a dance background. With Gaga, anyone can do it, it looks different on everyone, pretty much anything is allowed, there are no mirrors… There are all these different components, so I feel like it could be extremely beneficial from a therapeutic perspective.
I had been a bunhead all my life but discovered Gaga the year before my abusive relationship through a modern class I took on Saturdays. So, the Gaga movement style is what I feel like really helped me get out of that relationship. My plan is to go back to Israel and get certified in Gaga, which is about a two-year process, and use that as a part of my dance therapy work.
Do you have a teaching philosophy?
I think I’m developing one. One of the main things that are important to me as a teacher is for the students to have their own expression of their artistry and for them to feel comfortable so that they can grow. I’m also really big on community exercises, so another thing is that instead of moving alone, I like for the students to move together (in partners).
What is dance therapy?
I really feel like it’s a transformative experience. Not transformative in the sense of a particular situation, but personally transformative. For example, my transformative experience would be overcoming the abuse that I went through and learning how to just be a functioning woman in society again. After going through that, I had lost a sense of who I was and what I wanted. So, in that sense, I believe that it helps people be the best that they can be through movement.
How do you incorporate youth development principles into your class?
I work with the babies, so I think the main thing that Chelsea (co-teacher) and I have really focused on incorporating this year has been community-building. We’re working on having our kids be really comfortable with one another so that they’re not afraid to speak up or say something or do a crazy dance move. We feel like that’s a really important step in reaching their developmental goals.
One of my favorite things that we do is our variation for Sunshine. We let the kids hold hands and chasse across the floor and tell each other something that they love about each other. At first, I was kind of unsure because they’re really young, but I figured that it would either go really well or it wouldn’t work, so we just went for it. They love it! They even ask to do it and seem to love having that connection with kids they may not have interacted with before. Even when we tell them to give Sunshine to someone they haven’t partnered with, it really allows the children to feel more comfortable with kids they don’t usually talk to or don’t want to sit next to in the circle. Now, they want to sit next to them or have a conversation.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Growing up, I was always afraid to ask questions because I didn’t want to seem like I wasn’t intelligent. So, one thing that my mom used to tell me and that I’ve kept in my back pocket is: “The worst they can tell you is ‘no.’” That’s how I’ve gotten a lot of things because I’m really not afraid to ask anymore. What’s the worst they can tell me? Without that advice, I feel like I would really have held myself back and not asked what I needed to ask.
What do you like most about teaching at Moving in the Spirit?
I really appreciate how it’s like walking into a big family. Just little things like how Ms. Jeanetta always makes a point of saying hello and asking how I’m doing makes my work environment so exciting to go to because I really feel like the people there care about me and I really care about them. It really helps me as a teacher because I was terrified to teach. I’ve always been around it and my mom is an amazing teacher, so I’m thinking about living up to that. Then, I’ve been a bunhead my whole life and, sure, I danced with Alvin Ailey for a little bit, but I’m not a modern pioneer! Having that sense of family and community has really helped me be successful and without that, I don’t think I would have made it as a teacher.
Hannah teaches Baby Steps and is gaining experience in dance therapeutic techniques before pursuing her Master’s degree in dance and movement therapy! Read more in her bio.