Cynthia Newland | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Cynthia Newland

Photo by Courtesy Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education

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Cynthia Newland, chairwoman of the dance department at Belhaven University, was among a group of educators honored at the annual Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education Awards Ceremony July 17 at the Mississippi State University Riley Center in Meridian. Newland—a dance teacher, choreographer and performer—received the Exemplary Arts Service Award for her efforts in teaching inclusive dance to students with disabilities and her work with organizations such as Operation Mobilization International, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Children of the World.

Originally from Virginia, Newland, 50, attended high school at Fauquier High School in Warrenton, Va. She went on to receive an undergraduate degree from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and a master's degree from Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., both in dance.

Newland moved to Jackson 10 years ago from the San Francisco Bay area. Soon after, Colin Harbinson, then dean of Belhaven and an acquaintance of Newland, recruited her onto the Belhaven staff.

Newland takes special pride in teaching inclusive dance, which focuses on creating dances for people of varied ability, with and without disabilities.

"For about the last 15 years, I have taken opportunities to engage with communities with disabled people, and I feel they have important things to say," Newland said. "I started teaching inclusive dance after I met a young girl in California with spinal bifida. She had seen me dance and wanted to dance like me, but she was confined to a wheelchair. I was inspired to take her into the studio and study our movement potential together. It's very exciting and rewarding to help people of varied abilities to have a greater appreciation for one another. It's sometimes unpredictable, doing things like creating new movement vocabularies for wheelchairs or crutches, but it allows for innovative dance-movement language."

"I have a real passion to relay what I know and believe about the art form of dance," Newland said. "I believe that the body can be used as a vehicle for communication. I wanted to pass this on to the next generation. It's very exciting to be a part of imparting to students their own God-given value and talent, encouraging that and helping a student develop their artistic voice."

Newland and her husband, Doug Eltzroth, have two daughters, Tessa and Emma, and a son, Trailand.

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