Pushing Past Limitations

Pushing Past Limitations

Jessica Norris always knew she wanted to pursue a career in dance. “Dance is like breathing,” she says. “It brings me this freedom to create and inspires a deeper dedication to the craft I love so much.”

Because Jessica was home-schooled, her parents encouraged her to pursue extracurricular activities to help her make friends and develop socially. She quickly joined dance and gymnastics programs and from a young age developed a love for both art forms. At her local dance studio, she had a unique opportunity to volunteer as a movement mentor. In the program, she was able to help a disabled child find strength and healing through dance.

“My student had been in a coma for a couple of weeks and, because of a head injury she sustained, couldn’t recall anything about her day or even her birthday,” Jessica explains. “It was the sound of music that brought her out of her coma. So her mother enrolled her in the movement mentor dance program hoping the music might help her heal.”

After four years of mentoring this student, Jessica saw miraculous changes. The experience allowed her to witness the benefits dance played in her student’s life and see how success and happiness occur when we push past our limitations. “She showed me the healing dance can bring to anyone,” she says. “I was her teacher, but in the end, she taught me more than I expected.”

Now a senior in UVU’s dance program and facing her own challenges, Jessica has put into practice the life lessons of perseverance and grit she learned from her student.

While studying at UVU, Jessica has gone through a temporary separation from her husband while he participated in Army Basic Training. She has helped to support her family during a particularly turbulent time when both her parents lost their jobs and half their home to a fire. But with the help of scholarships and mentors and advisors, she has witnessed firsthand how dance can bring freedom from the chaos in your life. “I've felt genuine care at UVU,” she says. “It feels like family — I've always felt that way about the dance program.”

For a typical dance student, there is a considerable amount of work required to excel in the program. Beyond the required core classes, students participate in daily dance technique classes. Jessica has challenged herself further. As rehearsal director for UVU’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble, she spends an additional two to four hours practicing every day. As one of the first dance students to graduate with an honors degree, she is conducting additional research studying how movement can communicate an abstract idea visually by incorporating American Sign Language into her choreography.

Jessica never planned on attending UVU. “When I received my scholarship, that made all the difference,” she explains. “It has allowed me to continue expanding and growing my passions while not having to stress about finances. Soon I can proudly say I graduated from Utah Valley University.”