Jacobson Combines Data and Dance

Rollins School of Public Health faculty member Kara Jacobson (89Ox, 91C, 93PH) merged her expertise in dance with her career in public health in 2016 by opening The Atlanta Dance Academy (TADA), which is geared toward inclusion and offers classes for dancers with disabilities./Photo courtesy Kara Jacobson

Kara Jacobson (89Ox, 91C, 93PH) has danced for over 30 years. From performing as an undergraduate to opening her own studio to choreographing a performance at the 2019 Super Bowl, Jacobson has always incorporated dance into her life. What’s more is that her experience doesn’t stop there. She has coached the U.S. Special Olympics Team and even championed accessibility within her studio. On top of all of this, Jacobson is a faculty member at Emory.

A member in the department of health policy and management at the Rollins School of Public Health, Jacobson merged her expertise in dance with her career in public health in 2016 by opening The Atlanta Dance Academy (TADA), in Lavista Park, Ga. and establishing the TADA Foundation. Although she said the studio does not exclusively focus on dancers with disability, Jacobson has demonstrated efforts to include those with disabilities in dance and delivers financial aid for dance education and provided over $35,000 in financial aid to dancers in need since 2016.

A dance studio geared towards inclusion, TADA allows students to define their movement based on their physical ability. Since she opened the studio in October 2016, Jacobson and her team have made an effort to incorporate dancers with disabilities into traditional classroom settings, even offering a class specifically for those with disabilities, called Positive Movement. Jacobson said the studio prides itself on incorporating various types of dance, such as ballet, contemporary, salsa and bachata, in order to allow anyone to take classes.

“[TADA] specialize[s] in excellence [in] dance education for all,” Jacobson said. “I make an active decision to [recruit teaching assistants] to work hands-on with students who may need a little extra assistance.”

During her time at Oxford College, Jacobson danced and was a member of the varsity diving team at Emory College. Although one would expect that she primarily uses  skills from her dance career to manage her studio, she credited the Rollins School of Public Health with teaching her the skills that she now uses to run her business. Jacobson explained that her “appreciation for data” comes from her public health background and has assisted her in determining what types of dance the studio should offer.

Aside from offering a wide array of dance programs and focusing on community inclusion, the studio has given members the opportunity to perform at special events, including those surrounding the 2019 Super Bowl in Atlanta. Jacobson, having opened TADA only two years prior, said she was surprised to be selected to have the studio perform but was delighted at the opportunity. She hosted auditions and selected 20 dancers from a pool of 150 to train and perform live on-stage with singers Tim McGraw and Aloe Blacc at the Georgia World Congress Center for the tailgate party.

“[Opening TADA] is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life; I’m married, I have children, I’ve been to graduate school,” Jacobson said. “I’m very accomplished professionally, and it’s just like, wow.”

Jacobson’s contribution to those in need has extended beyond the walls of TADA. She works alongside Chattooga School of Gymnastics and Dance Director and Gymnastic Management Team for Special Olympics Georgia Cindy Bickman, her trainer since she was 6 years old, in coaching the U.S. Special Olympics Gymnastic Team after Bickman asked Jacobson to become a volunteer coach.

“[Jacobson] has an empathy for people with disabilities and she also is a very good teacher,” Bickman said. “She’s very creative in how she teaches … she treats them like she treats [any other] student and doesn’t cater to their disabilities. She has the same expectation of the people with disabilities to those without disabilities.”

As a child, Jacobson also helped Bickman coach students with disabilities. Around the time she opened TADA in 2016, Jacobson began choreographing routines for Bickman’s ballet group and helped coach Special Olympics athletes at national and international events.

To further her volunteering with the U.S. Special Olympics Team, Jacobson is now training the team for the 16th World Gymnaestrada, which take place in Austria in July 2019. The team is composed of about 60 athletes, 30 of whom are disabled.

Jacobson hopes to examine dance as possible movement therapy for patients with Parkinson’s disease and plans to propose a research grant to work with Emory Brain Health Center and Emory Physical Therapy.

Professor of Medicine at the Emory School of Medicine Ruth Parker, who has collaborated with Jacobson in her research of health literacy, the ability of individuals to clearly understand and apply medical instructions. Parker said that Jacobson’s interdisciplinary approach presented an exciting opportunity in research.

“[Jacobson’s] expertise as a health educator — she is marrying that with her passion [for] dance to bring dance as a form of community engagement and physical fitness and the arts together in a really exciting and novel way,” Parker said.

Jacobson currently works to redesign pharmaceuticals and medical labeling to improve patient comprehension. She has also developed a training program for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  called “Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals,” that requires full-time employees to become certified in health literacy.

“If [the] directions [for the medication are in] 8.5 font and it all looks the same, then [it’s] not a very digestible way for somebody to receive medication instructions,” Jacobson said. “So we have redesigned medication instructions that [have] been scientifically documented to improve patient comprehension and adherence to medication regimes.”

Much like she has taken advantage of the resources that Emory has offered her to create her own dance studio, she advises students to reach out and do the same.

“Be humble, be kind and take advantage of the resources at your fingertips,” Jacobson said. “Make the most out of the wonderful opportunity it is to receive your education from Emory.”

Correction (3/21/19 at 6:23 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jacobson opened The American Dance Academy. In fact, Jacobson opened The Atlanta Dance Academy.