Julianne Hough, Maria Shriver Talk Mental Health at Wonder of Women Summit

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Wendy Suzuki (left) and Julianne Hough

The second annual summit hosted by UCLA seeks to encourage open conversation about women’s physical and mental health.

Mental Health was top of mind at the 2019 Wonder of Women Summit on Thursday morning.

Hosted by The Friends of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior along with the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Hospital Board of Advisors, the Summit sought to encourage conversations about women’s mental health and highlight research and initiatives at UCLA. 

Lisa Kudrow emceed the event. Kudrow told The Hollywood Reporter that she has been involved with the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital before and took up the opportunity to contribute to the event since “there’s so much work to be done” around women’s mental health. Kudrow, along with president of UCLA Health Johnese Spisso, kicked off the day that would include a performance by Sara Bareilles and sessions with other key figures like Julianne Hough, UCLA Gymnastics head coach Valorie "Miss Val" Kondos Field, UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi and more.

Before going on stage with Dr. Wendy Suzuki to discuss their research on the connection of movement with memory, Hough spoke with THR about what it personally means to find scientific significance in dance. Hough, known for her quick steps and choreographic skills on Dancing With the Stars, said research shows that physical activity can elicit emotion, which prompts the creation of more memories.

“Growing up, I never thought I was smart. because I was a dancer, I was creative. Now that I’m an adult, I realize that through my body and through my movement, I’m actually building connectors in my brain and new brain cells...I’m even smarter now than I was before because of my movement, because of my dancing,” she said.

When the dancer joined Suzuki, she discussed living in London, away from her family, to pursue dance when she was 10 years old and the mental toll that resulted from the separation and “the pressure to be perfect.” She continued to share how dance became her “superpower” and helped her in overcome her fears and anxieties growing up.

To further highlight the relationship between movement, emotion and memory, Hough and Suzuki instructed the couple hundred attendees to stand up. They followed Hough as she told them to sway their hips, raise and wave their hands as loud music played throughout the room, which brought out laughter and cheers from the crowd.

Later during the day, Maria Shriver discussed her years-long advocacy for Alzheimer’s research and new initiatives surrounding the neurodegenerative disease with Dr. Kelsey Martin. Shriver, who has published multiple books on the subject, also stated that individuals who aren’t too politically involved can raise awareness for mental health issues including Alzheimer’s by voting.

“We have impact. We can vote for people who believe in science. We can vote for people who have a caregiving agenda,” she said. “We can vote for people who reflect our experiences.”

One of the last sessions of the day featured Kondos Field and Ohashi, whose floor routine went viral in January. The two spoke with THR about what they’ve learned from each other and their plans after leaving the campus that helped propel them to popularity.

Though Kondos Field may be responsible for the technique and artistry Ohashi has implemented in her routines, the graduating UCLA senior said the importance of choice in life is one of the larger lessons she’ll take away from her coach. On the other hand, the retiring UCLA coach said she’s admired Ohashi’s ability to hold herself accountable for her choices and actions.

Kondos Field and Ohashi will part ways with UCLA come the end of the academic quarter, but the two have their own plans, some of which may involve each other. Ohashi told THR she intends to pursue an internship with The Players' Tribune, continue working on a book about her activism and hopefully compete on Dancing With the Stars.

The beloved “Miss Val” said she has talks and other speaking gigs lined up, some taking place overseas. But the UCLA coach intends to go back to her artistic roots, hoping to do more work with film, theater and art.

“I’m not choosing to retire because I don’t like my job or I’m bored. Honestly, I’ve loved every single day at UCLA,” she said. “I’m inspired, now, to develop a new career.”