Arts & Sciences School of Medicine

Embodying cognition

Elinor Harrison, a postdoctoral fellow in dance and in physical therapy, works with senior dance majors Ali and Juli Yaniz to create “Table for Two,” which will debut Dec. 2-4 as part of “This is Temporary,” the 2022 Washington University Dance Theatre concert. (Photo: Danny Reise/Washington University)

It was one of those meetings that changes your life.

As a veteran dancer in New York, Elinor Harrison, PhD (AB ’01) took a professional interest in the effects of injury and movement impairment. “What if I couldn’t dance?” she remembers wondering. “What does this look like as I grow older?”

While performing with celebrated choreographers such as Jane Comfort, Noémie Lafrance, and Nancy Meehan, Harrison began working with neurology researchers at the Columbia University Motor Performance Laboratory. Then, when a national touring show brought her through St. Louis, Harrison arranged a visit with Gammon Earhart, PT, PhD, FAPTA, now director of the Program in Physical Therapy at Washington University School of Medicine and an associate dean for physical therapy.

“I’d seen an article about Dr. Earhart’s lab using dance to treat people with Parkinson’s,” Harrison recalled. Walking out, she thought, “This is my new career.”

‘Table for Two’

Since earning her doctorate in movement science, in 2018, Harrison has remained at WashU as a postdoctoral fellow, splitting her time between Earhart’s lab, where she studies links between music, rhythm and motor control, and the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences, where her teaching includes a seminar on “The Neuroscience of Movement.”

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