Jonette Shurden did not expect to find herself back in Starkville after graduating from Mississippi State University, yet Shurden is grateful to live in the Starkville community. Even at an 8 a.m. interview, her excitement for life spilled over her steaming cup of coffee and penetrated the early morning grogginess.
Somewhat of a Starkville icon, her cheery personality can be found in various places around Starkville. From behind the counter at Nine Twentynine Coffee Bar, to dance classes at Academy of Competitive Performing Arts (ACPA) and barre classes at The Studio Barre and Wellness, to the stage of Starkville Community Theatre shows, Shurden wears many hats. Recently, she has even started teaching a dance and movement class at MSU.
Shurden is originally from Pascagoula, Mississippi, but moved to Huntsville, Alabama when she was four years old. From an early age, Jonette has loved bringing joy to others through theatre.
"Encouraging people had been so important to me ever since I was little. Making people laugh is my favorite thing to do in life, even when I was little. That's huge to me. I think that's why I love comedy so much, and why I relate to it so much. There's a lot of truth in comedy," Shurden said.
Shurden began her time at MSU as undeclared in her major, though she would soon declare a theatre major with a minor in French. It was her academic advisor who connected her to the owner of ACPA Dance Studio, where she started teaching dance classes freshman year. She also participated in MSU's improv comedy group, Lab Rats, and in as many MSU shows as she could. She began building her resume, spending summers away working at the Children's Theatre of Charlotte, Stagedoor Manor in New York City and Summer Scholars on Stage—a theatre program at MSU. She also began to work as an independent contractor for choreography. She choreographed her first show for Starkville Academy in 2006.
After graduating from MSU in May of 2009, she moved to Atlanta where she was accepted into the Horizon Theatre Apprentice Company. Her time at Horizon Theatre was very special to her, as she made many lifelong friends and worked under the guidance of mentors she greatly respected.
She found new confidence in performing during this time.
"I had always really loved theatre before, but that was the first time I had ever felt confident because I was really seeing myself grow in that art form," Shurden said.
During this time Shurden was also working in the synthetic turf division Shaw industries as project coordinator for east coast projects for two and a half years. She was also participating in an improv group in Atlanta.
In 2012, Shurden moved back to Starkville to get a master of arts in secondary education. After realizing secondary education was not for her, she stopped the program after two semesters.
Shurden spoke about her experience of moving back to Starkville.
"Every job that I have has infiltrated into how I see Starkville. Coming back here, I was in a different, better place mentally than when I left. It was surreal to come back and see what was different. Yet, at the same time, I still knew the names of the roads, I still knew people I had met and I still worked at the dance studio," Shurden said.
Shurden said what made the transition back to Starkville easier was her job at ACPA.
"That has been my longest standing job. I've worked there for 15 years. Even when I was in Atlanta, I would come back on the weekends. In that way, I was never fully detached from Starkville," Shurden said.
Shurden has a deep founded appreciation for ACPA, and it has kept her grounded during many seasons of life.
"The dance studio is what has stayed a constant for me. After I teach my class, I am usually the last one to leave. For years I have turned the lights off in studio B, and as I am walking back to studio A, I hold onto the barre. As I slide my hand down the barre it hits me, how many times have I done this exact thing? So many versions of Jonnete have done this. Every week that I do it I sink into myself for a moment and reflect on how much the studio has been a part of me. Even when I think I need to leave Starkville and go to a bigger city with more options, that studio will always be special to me," Shurden said.
Shurden was introduced to her husband by the director of ACPA. He was working as head of the gym program, and now, just like Shurden, wears many hats including head of the competitive gymnastics and recreational program at ACPA and the director of the Mississippi Talent Opportunities Program for young gymnasts.
Shurden brought developed The Studio Barre and Wellness in June of 2018 and is now a partial owner, along with Heather Warren and Bell Moody.
"We have a very special dynamic with the three of us. We all bring so much to the table in such different ways. I believe that things happen for a reason, and I know that God put these women in my life," Shurden said.
Sara Blaske, a sophomore majoring in animal and dairy sciences, is a client of The Studio Barre and Wellness, and Jonette is one of her favorite instructors.
"I have only known Jonette for a couple of months, but I could go on and on about her. She is a ray of sunshine that lights up the room when she walks in. Jonette is encouraging to everyone around her, whether it be during or outside of barre class. I admire the positivity she radiates every time I see her," Blaske said.
Heather Warren is a partial owner of The Studio Barre and Wellness and has known Shurden since college, although they became close friends years later.
"Jonette is one of the most sincere people I know. She pours everything she is into everything that she does. She is wildly creative and a dedicated hard worker with a passionate heart. I'm constantly in awe of her many talents, and I'm proud to call her my friend and business partner," Warren said.
Shurden expressed gratitude for all the people who surround her in her various jobs.
"I try to give people grace, and so I am thankful when people give me grace," Shurden said.
Shurden feels she has reached a ceiling of sorts when it comes to performing arts here.
"I'm always wanting to find ways to bring theatre into my life. All this time I've been creating new pieces and putting them on people and seeking to inspire young humans. I love doing that, I really do. But at the same time I wish I would've allowed myself the chance to perform a little bit more myself," Shurden said.
Shurden said, looking back at her time at MSU, she would advise her college-aged self to take more risks.
"I would say 'stop being scared.' As much as I am a big proponent of change, I was afraid of making a big jump and taking that chance. I didn't feel like I deserved to have the success that may come with that jump," Shurden said. "At the same time, there's always that fear of failure. Sometimes you procrastinate because you're either afraid to succeed or you're afraid to fail."
Shurden does desire to give herself the chance to reach her full potential in performing arts, and it will most likely take her out of Starkville one day in the future. However, she is incredibly grateful for her time in Starkville.
"I appreciate how good Starkville has been to me. I've met a lot of people in this town, and a lot of them have moved away," Shurden said. "This is a very transient town, but I am thankful for those deep connections with people I still talk to. It's also allowed me to have the jobs I've had."
Shurden lives her life in a way that is centered around people and community, and while the list of her achievements and talents is lengthy, this is what makes her life so noteworthy.