“I’m a bit of a movement nerd,” Laura Baehr began. Having danced since age four, Baehr completed her undergraduate training in dance and neuroscience to explore the intersection of movement and the brain. “Your brain and your body are always talking, and dance is a way to physically express and internally feel, and your brain interprets all that information,” she explained.
“Dance is a vehicle for freedom of expression and an opportunity to be totally aligned in my mind and body while doing hard things. That feeling of freedom is something I want to give to other people.” Baehr turned her passion for movement into a career in physical therapy to help people who had a traumatic physical experience get to a place where they felt confident, healthy and inspired by their body after they’ve left the medical system.
Baehr has made this question the focus of her PhD research. She began with a study, funded by a Cell2Society grant, with people with spinal cord injuries discussing what it means to age well. Many expressed that physical independence is important, but there are numerous barriers to staying active. “I had this lightbulb moment,” she exclaimed. “In the face of challenge, how we can utilize what we have to make people's lives better?” It inspired her next research study— an eight-week virtual exercise class for people with spinal cord injuries to determine what works and how it affects their movement, pain and quality of life.
“I didn’t fit into certain boxes, but now I think that’s a huge strength of mine. What I’ve learned as a research scientist is that my strength as a change agent is to put things together that people otherwise wouldn’t have,” she said. “A lot of that comes from my interdisciplinary background and always being able to see the art and science within humanity, especially when it comes to movement.”