Woman teaches American movement to local kids since 1979

Written by Bill Warner, The Lebanon Daily News | Jun 9, 2015 8:37 AM

Photo by Bill Warner, Lebanon Daily News

Judy Williams Henry poses in her Movement Laboratory studio, which is filled with photos, newspaper clippings and other mementos of former students.


Photo by Bill Warner, Lebanon Daily News

Judy Williams Henry coined the title Movement Laboratory in 1969. She brought her dance studio to Lebanon in 1979.

Judy Williams Henry has been teaching kids the art of dance at her Movement Laboratory studio for 45 years.

What her students probably didn't realize was that they were receiving a much bigger education about life.

"One of the biggest fallacies is that we only cater to kids who want to dance," Henry said during a recent interview. "What we cater to is kids who want to learn about dance and appreciate it, and learn what it takes to be a dancer. Not all of them will attain a dance career."

Yet remarkably, Henry estimates that about 80 percent of her graduates have gone on to professional careers "in some kind of performing arts," including dancing, modeling, acting or an executive role.

Henry came to Lebanon in 1979, nine years after Movement Laboratory was incorporated as a business. Since then, the dance studio has been located in the 700 block of Cumberland Street in downtown Lebanon.

Movement Laboratory is one of Lebanon's greatest -- and quietest -- success stories. Little children who took their first dance lessons at the studio have grown up to become professional dancers, actors, engineers, executives and teachers.

"People ask me, why don't you move out of (Lebanon)? And I say 'no.' I'm proud of our town," Henry said. "We've seen a change in our town, in our populations. But I believe in our town. I'm always an optimist.

"I believe in bringing dance to city kids. Body language can be a key to breaking barriers. Dance has a way of uniting people."

Henry's approach hasn't changed since the days in the '60s and '70s when she gave dance lessons to inner-city kids in Boston for 25 cents. She's interested in producing good people, first; good dancers, second. Her dance classes for kids are structured and disciplined but in a nurturing and sensitive environment.

"All of our teachers are really wonderful with children," Henry said of her staff. "We have classes for all levels. Our teachers are very sensitive to children. There is no yelling or screaming. Our teachers are trained to be aware of the sensitivities of each child as well as the entire group."

Henry said she is alarmed by the proliferation of dance schools in today's society that emphasize winning in competitions and earning trophies.

"They've lost the artistry in dance," she said. "We don't do that here."

"The only trophy here is a disciplined effort, attitude and self-accomplishment. Also, an ability to work and respect others," Henry said. "I don't have an ego. I have a mission. I think actions speak louder than words. That's what it's all about."

When Henry opened Movement Laboratory (the name combines her love of arts and sciences) 45 years ago, dance schools were in short supply. Not anymore. Which is not necessarily a good thing, Henry says.

"I think it's changed by the sheer number of people involved in dance," she said. "It seems like there's a dance studio on every corner.

"Dance has evolved into so many different statements. It's unusual not to have a child involved in some form of dance. Some are involved to fulfill their parents' dreams; some are trying to keep up with other kids. There are the rare few who are extremely talented and very gifted.

"I see too much competitiveness," she said flatly. "It's not a sport."

Henry and her staff teach traditional and classical dances and offer popular classes like ballet, pointe, jazz and theater. But she is proud to point out that the American approach to dance is used at Movement Laboratory.

It's something she learned as a student in the 1960s when she graduated from the prestigious Boston Conservatory.

"When I was in Boston it was like a renaissance. ... It was an amazing time culturally," she said. "There is something different about the American stage dancer. The teachers in the '60s were the masters of technique that people today have come to accept as the foundation of American dance. This is an important point. Even though we study other cultures, we remember that we are American dancers."

Henry recalls performing in Poland as a professional dancer.

"What people said to me was that they saw the freedom I had as an artist," she said.

Education and culture are at the forefront of Henry's mission. For about 30 years, she has taken local students overseas on "Goodwill Through Dance" tours. The students perform American dance and learn the culture of the countries they visit. Movement Laboratory students have visited the former Soviet Union, Poland, Romania, Austria, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Spain.

Henry has a warm, engaging and caring personality that she credits to her parents, Jerry and the late Marva Williams. Henry grew up in Manchester, Conn. Her father, now 89, calls her everyday.

"I grew up in a peaceful home," she said. "(My parents) told me to try to look into another person's eyes and see yourself. I still say I'm Jerry and Marva's kid from Connecticut."

In the early days of her career, Henry was a dancer and actress. Today, she is a sought-after choreographer in professional venues. She has been choreographing select shows at Gretna Theatre since 1987. She also volunteers her time to work with students in high-school musicals, the latest being the highly regarded "Tarzan" at Lebanon High School in the spring.

"Painting pictures, making movement poems, is what I do best," Henry said. "It's an art form, leaving no space unfilled. ... It's never been about how clever I can be as a choreographer, or how ingenious I can be. It's not about that. It's about how much movement there is in that 'canvas.'"

Henry says she has strong bonds with many of her former students -- some she has known practically their entire lives.

"What I've enjoyed about Movement Laboratory is that I have brought the tiny, little foot of a 4-year-old and brought that foot along to be a professional dancer. And I was their only teacher. They trusted me, and I trusted in them," she said.

"Some students don't understand trust, and they don't trust anyone. But when you lose a student, there's always another one there reaching out and looking for that trust. Sometimes, it's the turtle, not the hare, who wins this race."

This article comes to us through a partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF.

Published in Education, Educators

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