Dancing, explains Laurie Scherer, is about connecting.
With your brain, with your body, with your partner, with everybody around you.
“When you dance,” she says, “it’s not just balance, rhythm and coordination. You literally are stepping into someone else’s shoes.”
She demonstrates a simple Lindy Hop Charleston step in the street then kicks her foot into the air with the fervor and finesse of a Rockette.
Laurie’s a woman who’s in perpetual motion.
She started her morning briskly by striding, elegantly and purposefully, from 30th Avenue to the Ditmars stop.
The temperature was 20. With the wind chill, it felt like 10.
Laurie, who has long legs and long hair and unabashed enthusiasm, didn’t notice the cold; her smile – and her color-coordinated covid mask – kept her warm.
“Everyone should be moving, whether you’re doing yoga, soccer or ballet,” she says.
That’s easy for Laurie to say: She’s spent her entire life not sitting still.
She was 3 when she asked her parents for dance lessons, and she was 12 when she decided that she definitely wanted to leave Marlboro, a suburban-mall township in central New Jersey that, if you’re driving fast, is about an hour south of Manhattan.
“I came to New York when I was 18,” she says. “I have no intention of ever leaving.”
She’s not quite sure where or why she got the idea to head to Manhattan, but it could have had something to do with her parents.
“They are New Yorkers,” she says. “New York was almost a mythology in my house. We always came here for shows.”
Or it could have had something – or everything – to do with the fact that Marlboro is, according to Laurie, a pretty boring place for someone who longs for adventure.
Her desire for big-city life made it easy for her to choose to study at New York University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and psychology.
She stayed, ostensibly for school, but really because she didn’t want to leave.
Her master’s, from Columbia University, is in psychopathology and education.
She earned her doctorate in school and clinical child psychology from Yeshiva University and took her training in dance movement therapy at the Harkness Dance Center at the 92nd Street Y.
“I had never heard of dance therapy,” she says. “One of my professors told me I was destined to be a healer and suggested it.”
She did know, though, that dance had had a huge impact on her life.
“I had an awful first semester at NYU,” she says. “I felt very isolated.”
It was the NYU Latin and Ballroom Dance Club that saved her.
“I felt I belonged,” she says. “I was dancing my heart out.”
Laurie, who now is the head coach for the group, says her ideas about stepping in time to the music have evolved.
“I used to love the idea of performing and being a character on stage,” she says. “Now, it’s more about community and connecting. It’s social; you have to ask someone to dance with you, you have to be present, you have to listen to your body and to the music. Being able to express yourself is a beautiful thing, and so is someone else seeing you do it.”
Laurie’s focus has been teaching dance therapy to special-needs students in the city’s independent and therapeutic high schools.
“I feel invigorated when I teach,” she says. “It’s a tool for changing, it helps kids come out of their shells.”
But she changed career partners during the pandemic.
“I’m taking a pause,” she says, her voice full of expectation for what the future holds.
She has a new, exciting role hosting mindful movement professional development workshops virtually through the 92nd Street Y.
“The workshops fuse all the things I love into a virtual format,” she says.
“I’ve found my passion.”
Of course, it goes without saying that at some point, when it is safe, she wants to transition them to in-person dancing sessions and bring their joy and exuberance to Astoria.
In the meantime, she’s been coordinating dance events for Astoria’s 31st Avenue Open Streets program.
“My dream is to open a community center in Astoria that includes parks, athletics, dancing and wellness,” she says.
While Laurie’s deciding what her next steps are, she and her partner in life and in love, who, like her, is in the education field, are buying a house in Astoria.
Everything else may be in flux, she says, but Astoria is a permanent part of her life.
So is dancing.
“It’s healing,” she says. “It makes me come alive. I feel I’m my best self when I’m dancing.”
On her way back home, she’ll have to settle for two-stepping around the patches of ice on the sidewalk.
Copyright 2022 by Nancy A. Ruhling