OU dance prof honored as young elite

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published February 16, 2016


ROCHESTER HILLS — A close friend of the family convinced Oakland University associate professor of dance Ali Woerner to teach dance to men and women with Parkinson’s disease. 

“My parents’ best friend was diagnosed with Parkinson’s,” Woerner said. “He told me, ‘You could do this.’” With the support of OU, Warner began training, and a time and date were set for the first class. “Forty people showed up,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Woerner said her Parkinson’s disease dance classes fill a distinct need in the community.

“The participants enjoy it. They are dancing. It is good for them,” she said. “They are not being poked at and prodded by a therapist. They are not judged because they are shaking or moving slowly. It doesn’t matter; the point is they show up. One guy comes in every month, and he never gets out of his chair. He never misses class. He moves in his chair. It motivates him to get out of his house.”

Woerner was named the overall winner of the 2016 Oakland County Executive’s Elite 40 Under 40 contest Feb. 10 by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson at his State of the County address in Auburn Hills.

As the co-founder and co-director of the nonprofit dance company Take Root, Woerner and her company have taught and performed across the country and around the world. A former Radio City Music Hall Rockette, Woerner, 38, is a Birmingham resident who is married and the mother of 4-year-old twins.

Woerner’s colleague, Jackie Wiggins, chair of OU’s Department of Music, Theatre and Dance, said Woerner — who has taught at OU for six years — is “the consummate artist and teacher.” Woerner is described as a dynamic performer and teacher who works with artistic integrity, approaching movement with a style that is distinctive, innovative, intelligent and powerful.

As winner of the Elite 40, Woerner will attend meetings with Patterson and consult with Oakland County staff members while participating in county roundtables and panels.

According to Oakland County officials, nearly 450 Elite 40 Under 40 applications and nominations were reviewed by a panel of judges, who looked for the top 40 young professionals and leaders who live or work in the county — seeking those who have achieved excellence in their field and contributed to the quality of life in their communities.

Of the Elite 40, the three highest-scoring candidates were placed before the public for a public online vote to determine the winner.

“This is our fifth Elite 40 class, and every year (it) seems to get stronger,” Patterson said in a statement. “The future of Oakland County and the region is extremely bright if we can retain the talented young minds we have in this class.”