I Create Birmingham: Melissa Turnage

“I am the ‘movement specialist’ using dance and movement as my vehicle to enhance healing.”

Name: Melissa Turnage
Occupation: Artist in Residence Arts in Medicine, UAB Hospital
Creative Industry: Performing Arts


1. You’ve taught dance for many years to all ages and in a variety of circumstances. What would you consider to be the highlights in that part of your career?
My highlights in teaching are too many to list! Everything from founding & running my own ballet school in Atlanta (Dance South), to being director of the dance program (K-4 & after-school dance program) at St Paul’s School in Baltimore, to teaching in the inner-city in Birmingham, Baltimore & Atlanta, to creating a dance program for the Georgia School for the Blind, to teaching Seniors, to working with acute adolescent psych patients & teaching a college course & now AIM


2. Now you’re part of UAB’s Arts in Medicine program. How did that occur for you and can you tell us briefly about the initiative?
I was a teaching artist for ArtPlay and was asked by Kimberly Kirklin, director of ArtPlay, to be on the Arts in Medicine (AIM) pilot program team at UAB Hospital in 2013. This program encourages healing through the arts. There are currently 7 artists in residence at UAB’s AIM. I am the “movement specialist” using dance and movement as my vehicle to enhance healing.


3. We understand you’re part of the patient care team, working side by side with doctors and nurses. What’s that like for you?
My AIM work is an incredible experience. Working with staff, doctors, nurses, patients, and family members is a gift. I teach workshops for patients and staff and I work bedside.


4. Are there any particular parts of the patient population with whom you work?
My main unit for the past 2 years has been the acute adolescent psych unit. I have learned so much about this particular population and I try to create dance experiences for them that are good for them mentally, emotionally and physically.


5. You’ve become so immersed in this work that you’re now back in school?
Yes, I am now pursuing a graduate certificate in Arts in Medicine from the University to Florida. The U Of FL AIM team have been our mentors and I got to go to Gainesville last January to see what they do first hand. I came back sufficiently inspired to learn more.


6. Your life’s passion is hard-wired into your DNA, right? You come from Birmingham dance royalty?
Both of my parents were very active in the arts here in Birmingham. They were both on many arts boards and my mother was a dance teacher and one of the founders of the Dance Foundation (formally The Children’s Dance Foundation). Her inspiration as a teacher who was willing to not only inspire young children with the joy of dance but to create programs for teaching dance to children who have many different types of disabilities and creating community dance projects through out the city continues to influence my work. Recently as I was walking to teach a workshop at the hospital & I had an “ah-ha” moment. I was actually going to do this particular workshop (Dance) in the part of the hospital where I was born, Jefferson Towers, and I now work in the hospital where my father did his medical residency. My work now is combining the professions and passions of both my parents and I have come full circle. I think I am supposed to be doing this work. Who would have guessed that 10 years ago when I moved back to my hometown, I would be working with an Arts in Medicine program. Wow