Meet Lebanon mover and shaker Judy Williams Henry

5 min read3,341 views and 463 shares Posted September 17, 2020

A body at rest tends to stay at rest. A body in motion tends to stay in motion.

Utilitarian movement is called “transportation.” Planned and directed movement is called “choreography.” Self-expressive, creative movement is called “dance.”

Judy Williams Henry has made a career out of understanding and defining the elements of movement. She’s made an impact on Lebanon County — and the world — by refining and promoting movement.

It’s called Movement Laboratory. It’s located at 720 Cumberland Street in downtown Lebanon, but it lives passionately at the intersection of art and science.

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Judy Williams Henry is the founder of Movement Laboratory in Lebanon. (Jeff Falk)

“It’s about how people move and why they move,” said Henry. “Movement is what we all do. We can all wave our hands, and it’s either ‘hi’ or ‘bye.’ Dance expresses a feeling. Feelings can be evoked by music or body rhythms. It’s telling a story. We can walk down the street and we can think of it as movement. But there’s an intent to get to another place. The design to get to that place can be choreographed.

“There’s a science to everything,” continued Henry. “Art and science can be like one. The movement of dance is the language everyone speaks. What goes up, must come down. There are all kinds of lessons that can be taught through dance. It’s more than putting on a costume and going up on stage and being vain. It’s about who you can be.”

Movement Laboratory has been a Lebanon treasure for 41 years. But it’s something that was established in 1969, and something Henry brought with her when she relocated here.

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A native of Connecticut and a classically trained dancer, Henry’s early career was influenced by her progressive parents, the turbulent times in which she grew up and the Boston and New York artistic scenes. She met her husband Doug Henry, a Lebanon-area businessman, at Boston University, and through the International Year of the Child program was assigned to the Lebanon school district.

“I feel like Movement Laboratory is a resource in the community,” said Henry. “That’s important to me. It’s important for me to stay downtown. I believe in Lebanon. I feel like the people in Lebanon have a poor self image, but we need to come together and pull together. We have one of the most beautiful main streets.

“I am from a very interesting family,” added Henry. “They were avid readers. They were doers. They were active people. My parents did things to make us responsible. They always told us we had a purpose and that every job had dignity. They taught us to see the greater good in everyone. First and foremost, my family members were teachers.”

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(Jeff Falk)

Movement Laboratory offers students — mainly school-aged children — guidance and instruction in the dance disciplines of jazz, tap, ethnic, modern, musical theater, and of course, ballet. Henry’s aspiring protégés have gone on to become stars on Broadway, performers for international dance companies, Rockettes, producers, choreographers and teaching artists.

But perhaps Movement Laboratory’s ultimate goal is to instill self-confidence and help dancers discover their true selves.

“I think movement teaches us the essence of humanity,” said Henry, a resident of Schaefferstown. “Every day — and it doesn’t matter what your skin color is – you’re in that dance class and everyone is trying to be the best they can be. Everybody’s got hips. Everybody’s got arms. Everybody’s got legs. The only competition is the one within yourself. It’s about learning about yourself and making sure you stay true to your goals. There are certain lifestyles you can and can’t participate in. It’s a 24/7 commitment.

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“All of my girls, they do well,” Henry continued. “I don’t let them loose until they’re ready to be let loose. I think they know I have the power of the word ‘no’. I will certainly let them know. It causes them to think about who they are and what they can be. After they’re gone, I hear from them and the fabulous things they’re doing. Parents can only guide so far. The joyous thing is they all remember me as ‘Miss Judy’.”

(Photo provided)

In keeping with its mission of promoting goodwill through dance, Movement Laboratory has, over the years, sponsored dozens of international and domestic performances and cultural exchanges in places like Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Finland, as well as destinations within the United States. The efforts have served to break down barriers, while teaching and learning about cultures that are similar to and different from ours.

“We’ve done concerts to raise money for boys’ and girls’ clubs,” said Henry. “We’ve danced to raise money for refugees in France, or we’ve exchanged with other schools. During one of our performances, someone rushed on stage and yelled ‘You are the children of hope. You are the children of peace’.

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“I think it’s just the course of what you’re supposed to do,” Henry added. “I don’t talk about my resume. I try to live what I’ve experienced. I don’t try to live my life through my students. I’m not a teacher. I’m a guide, and I hope they absorb things.”

A choreographer, director, actor and mentor, Henry has also served as a professional choreographer at Gretna Theatre for 31 years, been an adjunct member of the faculties at Lebanon Valley and Elizabethtown Colleges and consulted for local high school theater productions. In 2014, she was inducted into the local women’s hall-of-fame.

(Jeff Falk)

But all of the things she’s ever done have reflected who Henry is as a person. She is always passionate, humble and empathetic.

“I’m just a kid from Connecticut, who loves to learn,” said Henry. “Who loves to show what she’s learned. I know who I am. I’m grounded in who I am. I’m perceptive. I see movement in everything. I’m an artist. It’s just me. I’m just trying to figure it out like everybody else. I’m a compilation of that and all those experiences.

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“It’s about being able to wake up in the morning and have your feet on the ground,” continued Henry. “What surprises are going to happen today? How are you going to handle it? I’ve been blessed with a dance talent. I couldn’t ask for more than that. I was a happy child. I was loved. With my parents, each child was an individual. That’s what makes me whole.”

Henry doesn’t know what the future holds for her, she’s not sure how long she can continue to do the things she loves. What she does know is how to live each moment like it’s her last.

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“I’m old enough to remember a few things and have experiences,” said Henry. “I’m almost a vintage wine. I’m going to keep doing it until God says I can’t. Hopefully I’ll be blessed with good health and be able to do it for a few more years. You’ve got to live each day. Who knows?

“Movement can be the story and background of your life,” concluded Henry. “Movement Lab is a goodwill gesture for the community. I am a unique person, maybe a person who’s needed in the community. Someone who is subtly outspoken. I just believe all people have a right to be, and they have a purpose. They have to be strong in who they are. We are all God’s children. There’s not one person in the world who isn’t important.”

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