Danielle Fraenkel: Giving the Dance and Creating a Practice

Joan S. Ingalls

Danielle Fraenkel is refreshingly a good storyteller, and to hear her tell it, it was like rolling off a log – that is, a 30-year career (so far) building a very impressive practice as a dance therapist which includes creating dance therapy positions at two nationally recognized providers of humans services for at risk youth and their families, introducing dance/movement therapy to a myriad of programs attending to eating disorders, maintaining a private practice, leading LivingDance~LivingMusicTM , her original approach to dance/movement therapy both here and abroad, running her own dance-therapy training program at her business, Kinections, and serving on the ADTA board. And that is just the beginning of who she is. Danielle Fraenkel also completed a doctorate in counseling, and raised two children. What strikes me most when talking to Danielle is that she likes people; and life — the world -- is not all about her; it’s all about the people she meets, connects and builds with. Danielle is a collaborator, and people join her and support her. In the dance therapy world, a world in which professional visibility and credibility remain perennial issues, Danielle is an innovator and successful builder of dance therapy professional practice. What can we learn from her? How does she do it?

Danielle loves dance; it has always been part of her life. She studied dance as since she was a child, and found ways to have it in her life. She choreographed for high school shows, and, as an adult, for local Jewish Community Center productions; she brought teaching-through-the-arts into her early jobs as an elementary grade teacher in the public schools. She studied creative movement with Jack Wiener. It was those experiences that led her to enroll in the MA dance education program at New York University, and it was there, chatting over lunch with other students, that she learned about the inaugural year of the dance therapy program that she would enroll in at Hunter College.

Danielle not only loved dance, she wanted to give dance to others, she understood the healing power of dance, and she understood the power of collaborating with others. Collaboration for Danielle seems to be both a way to give, and a way to learn and develop. Her experiences seem to grow out of her being deeply embedded in her community as a giver of dance, and an organizer of groups in which to give dance. While a student in Hunter College’s first graduate dance therapy program, she helped organize the Children’s Underground, a daycare center on Manhattan’s Upper Westside. The center was a place for her to experiment – finger painting with chocolate pudding as a prelude to dancing freely. Years after graduating from City College, she reconnected with people there, and ran groups for the Student Life Program. She studied the Tavistock method, and organized a group of dance therapists to attend a Tavistock Conference.

Learning about the Hunter Dance Therapy Program, and starting the Children’s Underground have a serendipitous feel to them—the rolling-off-a-log feel. At the same time, I can hear in her stories that she is creating with those opportunities. Danielle has periodically evaluated her career goals, and actively shaped her direction based on, as she says simply, “What I wanted to do.” Having relocated to Rochester, New York – a move necessitated by her husband’s career -- she created a position as a dance therapist at what was then called the Convalescent Hospital for Children. She feels she arrived there at an opportune moment when an art therapist was already on staff, and the director was open to innovation as long as it fit the agency’s psychodynamic orientation. It wasn’t long before she was evaluating her job satisfaction. She branched out to work with pregnant teens and young parents, and then with adults struggling with eating disorders, all the while learning to speak the language of the administrators who ran the programs to which she wanted to contribute.

Danielle’s passion is to have as many people as possible become dance therapists, and for dance therapists to be empowered in the marketplace. In 1991, she worked out an arrangement with the SUNY Brockport dance department to offer dance/movement therapy courses for people who had or were pursuing master’s degrees in the helping professions. Two years later, when the funding at Brockport was cut, she created an alternate route program at Kinections so her students at Brockport could continue their study of dance therapy. She invited Susan Loman to teach Kestenberg Movement Profiling (KMP), and Claire Schmais and Elissa White to teach courses on group process in dance/movement therapy and the Marian Chace approach. Soon she added her own courses, DMT Theory & Practice, DMT and the Treatment of Children and Adolescents, DMT and the /Treatment of Eating Disorders to name a few. In 1997, Kinections became an approved provider of continuing education for the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Today students travel from all over the world to study at Kinections. Danielle also goes abroad to teach. She has taught dance therapy and LivingDance~LivingMusicTM in Israel, Taiwan, and Greece.

As Credentials Chair (1995-2000), on the ADTA Executive Board, knowing that she had more opportunities for work because she was a certified counselor, she initiated negotiations with the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) so that dance/movement therapists could gain access to the National Counselor Exam and become Nationally Certified Counselors (NCC). Although, she believes that licensure as Professional Counselors is the wiser political and economic course for dance therapists, she is currently working to reinforce New York States’ decision to create a mental health profession entitled Creative Arts Therapist by (1) promoting the need for alternate route training in the Creative Arts Therapies and (2) suggesting that the State use the ADTA’s alternate route model as the benchmark for all the creative arts therapies. Danielle wants to ensure that the New York State Education Department's Office of Professions Regulatory Board for Mental Health recognizes the comprehensive education that the ADTA requires of students receiving alternate route training. With only one approved program in the State, dance/movement therapy needs other educational venues if it is to grow. Currently, Kinections offers continuing education (CEs) for all NCCs, NCCs who are not dance therapists can then apply those courses toward the a DTR level of credentialing.

Today, in addition, to running her educational program, LivingDance~LivingMusicTM workshops, and individual and group dance therapy at Kinections, she donates her studio space to Calabash, a local dance company, whose artistic director emphasizes organic movement and a collective approach to choreography and performance. He is a CMA who runs the LMA program in Italy. My guess is that their shared interests may lead to a new creative collaboration.

So rolling off a log…? Could it be that Danielle is performing her LivingDance~LivingMusicTM. “…experience and honor the present no matter what stage of healing one is in…”? Could it be that she is a revolutionary? According to Danielle, “A fundamental element of LivingDance~LivingMusicTM is that it helps people to affect the systems [my italics] to which they belong.” In the helping professions, we help people to adapt to society, we rarely critique it, or view our work as changing society – that is, we rarely view ourselves as revolutionaries. But it seems to me that Danielle is a revolutionary. As a student at the Bronx High School of Science, she picketed Woolworth’s and joined the civil rights Youth March to Washington. In 1965, Danielle led her third grade students in a march to show support to those marching from Selma to Montgomery, and in many ways she is still marching – still changing the world, not just one-by-one with LivingDance~ LivingMusicTM. Today, she works with the Neighborhood of the Arts (NOTA), an organization that transformed a once drug-infested, boarded up neighborhood in Rochester into a welcoming environment in which artists, their audiences, local businesses, and residents can thrive. One offshoot is ARTWalk, an outdoor interactive "urban trail" museum. She is a trustee, the co-curator of dance, and one of the two creators of ARTWalk's Dances on the Avenue (DOTA). In October 2001 ARTWalk ran its initial performance -- a juried competition for dance companies to perform outdoors in ARTWalk. Danielle wrote an op-ed column for The Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester's local newspaper, "Dance Builds Community".

Danielle is also a revolutionary in that, unlike many of us, she has, not capitulated to the pressure to gain acceptance in the psychological professions by identifying with specific theories. A leader in promoting dance as healing in itself, she has developed a theory of dance therapy that views dance as primary and psychological theory as secondary, providing support for what dance has already explained. Danielle understands the political and economic reasons for aligning with specific schools of thought, but sees this trend as dishonoring. “Dance/movement therapy” she says, “is more than a modality capable of embodying specific psychological constructs. It is a profession whose theory can stand on its own.”

To learn more about Kinections, LivingDance~LivingMusicTM, workshops in Costa Rice and Corfu, Greece, alternate route courses and continuing education, please visit her web site, www.kinections.com.