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Student Dancer Stretches Dance to Health Care

Alana Jackson inspired to explore arts' role in health care

Dancer and Benenson Award-winner Alana Jackson.

Therapeutic relief for major illnesses starts with medical care, but Trinity senior Alana Jackson believes arts can play an important role in healing.

Jackson, a Program II major who examines the intersection of public health with the arts, organized a performance, "She w[Rites] of Passage" on April 12 in the Arts Annex. The performance featured dances, music and spoken word performances by more than 20 students to increase awareness of the role of art in health care.

Jackson organized the project as a senior capstone to an independent study course that examines the potential of the arts in the healing process.

"The performance is meant to expose how the arts can currently inform our experience of health and illness, and examine their potential to encourage dialogue and empower people in matters of their health," she said.

Some of her inspiration came from her experiences as a caretaker and her participation in a Global Health Focus program at Duke as well as the Arts in Healthcare summer intensive at the University of Florida. These programs encouraged her to find ways to connect her extracurricular activities to her passion for medicine, she said.

"I always associated there being some greater purpose and motivation behind dance and art, and had a heart for its capacity to make a positive difference in the lives of others," Jackson said.

With help from the Duke Dance Program and the Center for Movement Disorders, Jackson coordinated a five-week dance class series for individuals at Duke with Parkinson's disease and their caregivers. She employed a dance model specifically tailored toward Parkinson's disease patients used by the Mark Morris Dance Group/ Brooklyn Parkinson's Group. The dance series was Jackson's first time working with individuals of different needs.

Jackson said the purpose of her project was to spark conversations around campus about the ways practitioners can use a humanistic approach to health care. She also sought to connect students with health care experts and medical professionals around campus.

"I think that we are in a time now when there is a lot of importance placed on interdisciplinary thinking and explorations, even if we are just looking at some of the most recent initiatives like Duke STEAM, Bass Connections, Duke Forward," Jackson said.

"I've learned to think differently about limitations and potential for human capacity," Jackson added. "The individuals were so amazing and they helped me realize that providing them access to these sorts of opportunities is important to their quality of life and to them as people who have so much to offer this world."

A 2013 recipient of the Benenson Award in the Arts, Jackson is planning on continuing her community involvement with the arts and health care with a project titled, "Arts in Healthcare Educational Enrichment." She will also participate in a clinical project intensive focusing on community health for a month in Ireland and would like to record her experiences through other artistic outlets such as music and the spoken word.

Jackson plans on applying to medical school following graduation. 

Below: Alana Jackson leads a dance class for people with Parkinson's disease.

Alana Jackson