Tawna Halbert believes dance can heal.
Halbert — a dance movement therapist, dance collective founder and Weber State graduate — describes her profession as helping people get back into their bodies, whether that’s through breathing exercises or something that looks a little bit more like dancing.
She does this in the oncology unit at Primary Children’s Hospital.
“You don’t have to be a dancer to do movement therapy,” she said. “You just need to have a heartbeat.”
Halbert decided to pursue a dance education degree at Weber State, and ended up petitioning to have the program created so she could pursue her dream of helping people with dance and movement. She was part of the first graduating class in 2010.
“I loved being part of a program that was small and the professors cared about what I wanted to do with my future,” she said.
WSU Director of Dance Erik Stern has known Halbert for about 16 years, starting back when she was a student. He said it was clear from early on that she knew there was power in what she was learning about dance and movement.
“She had ideas and wanted to be part of harnessing and implementing that power,” he said.
Halbert then taught dance and yoga at Ogden’s Ben Lomond High School where she noticed students spending more time in her class after traumatic events, such as the death of a student or active shooter drills.
“I noticed movement and body-based practices were therapeutic,” she said.
Her experience at the high school inspired Halbert to continue her education at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, earning a master’s degree in mental health counseling with a specialization in dance/movement therapy in 2020. All the while, she gained valuable experience holding internships, one in a residential treatment center for kids in foster care and another at a drug rehabilitation center.
A 2019 study found dance movement therapy is effective in treating depression while another in 2021 also found it is helpful in reducing pain.
Following graduate school, Halbert returned to Utah where she founded the Ogden MoveMeant Collective, a dance group made up of Weber State dance program alumni. The group does outreach at area schools and also performs at events, and one day she hopes to secure studio space in The Monarch for interactive dance events and movement therapy.
“I love this place and I feel deeply rooted and engaged here,” Halbert said. “I think there’s something special about Weber that connects the community to the university.”
Halbert said she’s drawn to dance because it’s social, emotional, mathematical and mental.
“It’s a wholeness, a very present moment thing,” she said. “It’s hard to be making a grocery list when you’re in the middle of moving.”