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Dance: A path to inner healing

BYUH student shares the extraordinary healing power of movement and expression

A lady leaping in the air.
Thornton leaping into the air.
Photo by Yui Leung

From a young age, Mya Thornton, a freshman double majoring in communications and intercultural peacebuilding from Kailua, said she has immersed herself in the world of gymnastics, developing strength, flexibility and an innate sense of body awareness. However, she said it was through her exploration of dance that she found a means of healing and self-discovery.

Early life

As a gymnast since the age of 3, Thornton said she has cultivated a connection with her body, sharpening her physical abilities and pushing the boundaries of what she thought possible. This laid the groundwork for her to embark on a new artistic journey into dance. One that would extend beyond athleticism and into the realm of grace, fluidity and emotional release, she said.

Thornton said she discovered dance merged athleticism with artistry. The precision of each movement, the extension of limbs and the alignment of the body allowed her to express her emotions in a way words alone could not capture, said Thornton.

Discovering couple dancing

Thornton said her love for dance expanded to include couple dancing, or partner dancing. The enchantment of partnering with another dancer, she said, created a beautiful dialogue of movement and connection.

Through the art of couple dancing, Thornton said she discovered a sense of trust, vulnerability and harmony. In the embrace of her dance partner and childhood friend, Evan Foster, she said she found solace. It was a space where she said she could surrender to the music and let her body respond intuitively. She explained it allowed her to release any emotional burdens and find a sense of liberation.

A lady in blue dress posing by a lamp post.
Thornton posing by a light post.
Photo by Yui Leung

Best friends and dance partners

“Evan was the person who brought me into dance, and I had no idea his mom was a dance teacher,” Thornton said of her best friend. “There are times I would be having a really hard time, and Evan would come knock on my window and be like, ‘Maya, I’m teaching you a new lift. So get out of bed right now.’ It’s just been so amazing. It’s something that’s really been able to help keep me going, and I am super grateful for him,” said Thornton.

Thornton said she has been attending dance classes since Fall 2022. “Dance teaches me a lot of patience and helps me get over stage fright. I wasn’t working out a lot because I was busy with classes, but I always had weekly time for a ridiculous amount of exercise. It felt like cardio for six hours, [with all the] dancing around and getting thrown in the air. It’s always been super fun,” said Thornton. In the midst of struggling with midterms or finals, she said dance saved her.

“Dancing with my best friend was such an incredible experience,” Thornton said about being partnered with Evan Foster. “We would have moments where we would pause and just make the worst eye contact, which was absolutely hilarious. When we’re on stage dancing, I think about all the memories I have gone through, especially during the dance concert in the fall. ... It was just a really nice moment of reminiscing that [Evan Foster] is a good person and this is a good moment.”

Evan Foster, Thornton’s best friend from Kapolei, said, “She is an angel on earth [who] strongly believes in the power of friendships. Her infectious smile and unwavering positivity make her a cornerstone of love. I feel incredibly fortunate to have met her during ninth grade seminary, and I am forever grateful for the immense personal growth she has facilitated in me.”

A lady posing.
Thornton posing by the temple.
Photo by Yui Leung

Healing from chaos

Thornton shared she previously struggled with self-harm. She explained how she would wear long sleeves and bandages for six hours straight. Thornton said it was awful.

“I would wake up, lay in bed and cry. What really motivated me to stop self-harming was that I want to be able to dance without wearing long sleeves. I want to be able to have fun. I do not want to be worried about what people think. And so, after enough time, I was able to dance without long sleeves. It took a while, but I got there by the end of the semester,” said Thornton.

Thornton said dance became more than just physical movement. It became a form of therapy, a means to heal her inner wounds. With every step, leap and turn, she said she channeled her emotions, fears and triumphs, allowing the rhythmic flow of dance to guide her on a transformative journey.

Thornton said her love for dance radiated through her every movement, captivating audiences and inspiring others to explore their own healing potential through movement and self-expression.

Her journey from gymnastics to dancing represents an evolution, she explained, a testament to the power of dance to unlock the depths of one’s soul and facilitate healing from within.

“Dance has helped me in a lot of ways... I think the real reason I really liked [dance] is it’s like gymnastics in the sense that I get to flip around and do spins. That’s something I haven’t done in a while, because I haven’t been doing gymnastics. So still being able to flip and do some routines to music is so fun and exciting,” said Thornton.

Thornton said it is uncommon for people her age to do gymnastics, so she has found a substitute through aerial silks. “It basically has two long pieces of fabric that hang from the ceiling. You go up and you get to tie yourself around,” she explained. “It’s also a form of dancing with music and routines.”

Euphoria and pure joy

Thornton said she struggles with depression. She said most of the time she is either sad or just emotionless, numb to the world and zoned out. She explained dance has always been something that takes just enough brain power and energy that it doesn’t wear her down but instead, gives her more energy.

“It doesn’t matter how bad I feel. If I can get myself to start dancing, my mood gets 100 times better, and it’s really amazing what it does. I think it’s one of the few times where I really am truly happy,” expressed Thornton.

“[Thornton] is diligent, responsible and loving,” said Nina Foster, Thornton’s dance teacher, Evan Foster’s mother and an adjunct faculty member for Seasider Sports & Activities. “She loves to dance. She often spends extra time with her dance partner to take the dances to another level.

“She also loves to help others. I can feel when she dances, she feels free. I love her and her beautiful spirit. I wish dance will continue to bring joy to [Thornton’s] life.”

A lady in a blues dress posing against a banyan tree.
Thornton posing against a banyan tree.
Photo by Yui Leung

Forms of healing

Thornton said she had many injuries from gymnastics. She broke her foot a couple of times and tore ligaments, which she said is the reason she stopped doing gymnastics. She said dance has helped her be more active, as well as helped her foot to heal.

“Art in general has been amazing for me,” Thornton said. “It has always helped when I went to the hospital due to my depression.” She said at one point she was hospitalized and there was nothing for her to do during that time. “My parents brought me a sketchbook and I was able to just draw and create art. ... I was able to listen to music on [my parents’] phone, imagine routines and come up with choreography in my head.”

Another time she was hospitalized, she said, “I had a lot of free time when I didn’t have meetings with therapists or counselors. They had coloring books, and I would rip out pages of super intricate things and just draw and color. That’s really how I made it through,” she said.

Through her dedication, passion and unwavering commitment to self-expression, Thornton said she continues to dance her way toward personal growth, inspiring others to join her in the journey of healing through the art of dance.