Moving in the Spirit uses dance to help children and teens develop social, emotional skills

Moving in the Spirit celebrates its new arts and youth development center on Oct. 23-24.
Moving in the Spirit celebrates its new arts and youth development center on Oct. 23-24.
Credit Hayle Anne Fucini-Lenkey

Since 1986, the youth development program Moving in the Spirit has brought up new generations of young dancers and helped children and teens develop social, emotional and cognitive skills through movement. The organization celebrates the completion of its new home this weekend, with a day of music and dancing at their custom-designed facility now located adjacent to MARTA’s Edgewood-Candler Park Station.

Dana Lupton, co-founder, and CEO of Moving in the Spirit joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes along with Shalondra Henry, Director of Strategy & Expansion for the organization, to talk about this weekend’s big dance party.

This month, Moving in the Spirit is celebrating the completion of our new $8.4M performing arts and youth development center adjacent to MARTA’s Edgewood/Candler Park station. (JandDImages)

Moving in the Spirit first formed as a result of the collision of three life-long lovers of dance. “As young women, Genene Stewart, Leah Mann and I experienced dance as such a powerful and safe place — actually, a transformative place,” said Lupton. “In 1986, when we gathered together and found each other, we wanted to create an organization to actually just pay it forward.”

Today, the dance education studio teaches and counsels students, focusing mostly on modern dance with a wide variety of guest artists offering fusion, capoeira and even experimental dance exploration. “Most recently, we had the fabulous BANDALOOP come and bless our new space with some workshops that were part of the Flux project. And that was just incredible because they do such extraordinary aerial work,” Lupton said.

According to Lupton and Henry, the facility’s planned relocation and expansion was an idea in the works for ten years before it became clear that the time for change had arrived. “We, back at our original theater, had envisioned an opportunity and a place and space where our students would be able to thrive and to shine even more than what they were in our old location,” said Henry. “Our plan got advanced a bit when there was a MARTA stop that was moved that was nearby our old location, and our property was being sold. So it was like, ‘This is the time to make this happen, for our students and for the city.’”

With the architect team Perkins & Will, Moving in the Spirit found a unique opportunity to collaborate with students and educators in the plans for the building itself. As a result, the dynamic new space is actually the first fully wheelchair-accessible performance facility in the region. “It’s an incredible space,” said Henry. “We have two full-size studios … as well as an incredible 200-seat theater that is the same size stage. We created the space intentionally with the thought that our students, once they get on larger stages, they need to know what it feels like to be in a space that they can fully express their artistic and physical selves in the space.” She added, “This space, there’s so much light. It’s modernly designed. It just feels really fresh and bright, and it creates a space of freedom for our students to fully be able to express themselves.”

A celebration of the new space takes place this Saturday, along with food trucks, music and lots of dancing — not just by the students. “We have our ambassadors performing, and … We’ve got dancers whose parents danced with us back when they were younger, and now they’ve had families, and now their children are performing; so that in itself feels like a homecoming and a family reunion,” said Lupton.

The afternoon’s dancing features guest performers from ELEVATE and Emory University, among others. Guest dancers will also present an original dance-and-poetry creation by Moving in the Spirit’s own alum, the recent Tony Award-winning Tendayi Kuumba, who performed in David Byrne’s Broadway rock concert “American Utopia.” “I can’t wait for you to just see these amazing talents circling around our young people and celebrating in our community this beacon of hope for all young people, and really, destination for dance,” said Lupton.

She went on, “There’s going to be something for everyone, from bubble parades to swag bags with t-shirts for the first 200 guests coming in. There’s a ‘ribbon-uniting experience’ for the entire community to come out … It is going to be magnificent.” On Sunday, students and community members can participate in a series of workshops presented as part of Atlanta’s ELEVATE festival, in partnership with Destination Dance Ailey Atlanta and Dance Canvas.

Henry spoke on the organization’s broader mission to influence holistic well-being for each of its students beyond the movements of dance. “We consider ourselves to be a youth development program, and so we use dance to get to social, emotional, cognitive leadership development skills that are lying basically in wait within each student, within each child … We teach dance, and we want our students to be incredible movement artists, but we also want them to be centered individuals who know themselves and know where they can lead in different areas of their lives.”

The youth development organization Moving in the Spirit celebrates the grand opening of its new studio and performance space this Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 23. More information on the weekend’s event schedule is available at

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