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    Photo by Chris Witzke

    Harlina Churn doesn’t just have a spark about her; she’s practically a chandelier — the kind of person who speaks of her “passion” for life and you believe it. You can see it in a smile so wide it crowds her round face, can hear it in her loud laugh that is its own mini firework. Peek outside Churn’s dance studio at Lincoln Performing Arts School on East Market Street. A large photo captures her dancing with famed ballerina (and Louisville native) Wendy Whelan with the words “Still Swinging at 60!!!” underneath.

    Churn created Lincoln’s dance program when the elementary school turned into a performing-arts magnet nine years ago. The 60-year-old teaches all styles of dance — salsa, folk, flag, ballet, tap, hip-hop, African, jazz. And she’s always sure to help students understand the meaning behind moves: Where in the world did this dance come from? Who does this dance and why do they do it?

    Growing up in the Park Hill housing projects, with parents who were dancers (“My dad will out-dance you now, and he’s 81!”), she was born ready. “I started walking at six-and-a-half months,” she says. “So I’ve been moving a long time.” Like hundreds of other west Louisville kids, Churn was inspired by Anita Neil’s La’Nita Rocknettes School of Dance, a free afterschool program that’s been around for 55 years. Churn and her six siblings were regulars. “There were five girls,” Churn recalls with a big smile. “We won every little talent show around.”


    Photo: Harlina Churn is the kind of person who speaks of her "passion" for life and you believe it.

    Churn has studied dance all over the world, including six countries in Africa. With various dance troupes, she has performed at Epcot at Disney World and on stages in France and Japan. Before Lincoln, Churn taught physical education and dance at the University of Louisville. For several years she's also served as the artistic director for La’Nita Rocknettes.

    On a recent afternoon at Lincoln, she welcomes 25 kindergartners into a vast, sunlit studio with a wall of mirrors and cubbies full of tap shoes. “Jazz hands,” she instructs, before leading the students through choreographed steps to a series of Raffi tunes. Hopping, shaking, lunging, turning — they do it all, most with giggles and grins. Churn commands the space, both firm and loving. “Work on your directions,” she shouts as kids struggle to hop in tiny circles. She’s not looking for perfection, just effort.

    A brace over a strained knee limits her own ability at the moment, but the bobbing bodies that hit about hip-high feed Churn’s spirit. This is hardly work; this is love. “Dancing is a tool God has given me,” she says. “I am here to share it and connect with people.”

    This originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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