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UT neuroscience graduate starts dance program, instills love of movement in kids

Elizabeth Cousins and a few others started the group at UT called "VOLS en Pointe" in Spring 2019. Since then, they have taught dozens of kids to dance.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Recent University of Tennessee graduate Elizabeth Cousins finished up her time on Rocky Top by leaving behind a dancing legacy.

During her time as a student, Cousins started the group "VOLS en Pointe." She used her brains and ballet to teach under-served kids in Knoxville the beauty of dance. 

"I really just grew up in dance, and began to love every part of it," Cousins said. Her mother was a professional dancer, so Cousins grew up in a studio.

She has spent her life reaching for the stars and keeping her classmates on their toes.

"If you set your mind to something it can happen, no matter who you are," Cousins said.

The Oak Ridge native is a 2021 graduate from the University of Tennessee. She majored in neuroscience with minors in psychology and Hispanic studies. 

"I knew that eventually I'd probably want to work with Alzheimer's patients, so that's why I chose to now go into a PhD in clinical neuro psychology where I'll be working with geriatric patients," Cousins said.

Cousins had a full plate in college, but always made time for dance.

Ballet is one style of dance that has always given her brain a break.

"I think music and dance is just such a creative way to express yourself," Cousins said.

In an effort to share that expression, she and a few others founded the on-campus group VOLS en Pointe in the spring of 2019.

Credit: University of Tennessee

"I just wanted everyone to have an opportunity, you know, even if they hadn't ever danced before, I thought VOLS en Pointe was a place where they could learn to dance and where we could expose children to it," Cousins said.

She, and other volunteers, spent their time in college going to the Shades of Development School System and the Emerald Youth Foundation, teaching kids how dance could lift them up.

The pandemic in 2020 halted some of the group's outreach efforts, but business returned as usual for the members in 2021.

 "We're trying to show them that exercise and dance can be really fun, and that they can even work together to do those things," Cousins said.

She gladly shared her passion while putting a spin on play time. About five people from the group volunteered to teach the dance classes each week. 

The VOLS en Pointe group has about 20 members total.

"We're just hoping that they remember that they had fun with dance and that they can have a fun, creative outlet where they can get some of their energy out and get some of their feelings out," Cousins said.

Credit: VOLS en Pointe

She decided to initially take the leap of faith and start the club to carry the Volunteer spirit and torch into the world.

"One of the things that volunteers are supposed to do is interact with the community, and really go out there and try and help others," Cousins said.

It's something she will take with her in every twist and turn through life.

Cousins said none of this would be possible without the help of her fellow co-founders of VOLS en Pointe, Katherine Fulcher and Carinne Cheney.

Cousins is moving on now to pursue her PhD at Kent State University in Ohio. She plans to dedicate her life to helping others and to carrying on the volunteer spirit.