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NewsDec 10, 2019

Lesley professor to help establish first dance therapy specialization training on African continent

Fulbright Scholar Dr. Vivien Marcow Speiser ’77 to establish dance therapy program in South Africa

Vivien Marcow Speiser stands on South Campus

Dance/movement therapist and Lesley Professor Vivien Marcow Speiser will return to her home country and her undergraduate alma mater as a Senior Scholar Fulbright awardee next year.

Marcow Speiser will be stationed in the Drama for Life program at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg from Jan. 17 to June 17, where she will work with colleagues to establish South Africa’s first academic dance therapy specialization training to be offered in the African continent.

“Returning to the university where I developed an intellectual curiosity and passion for social justice brings my academic career full circle,” she said.

Professor Viven Marcow Speiser.

As a child, Marcow Speiser studied dance in South Africa as a way of helping her process the complexities of growing up during apartheid.

“Dance offered me a way of sorting through the complexity of feelings I experienced in and around me and created a pathway into the profession of dance therapy,” Marcow Speiser said.

In 1970, she immigrated to Israel, and in 1973 volunteered in a rehabilitation hospital during the Yom Kippur War and saw the benefits that dance and movement could have on recovery. She later moved to the United States for college and, in 1975, joined Lesley’s first cohort of dance therapy students, graduating in 1977.

Marcow Speiser returned to Israel and established the Arts Institute Project, a master’s program in Expressive Therapy in collaboration with Lesley, and returned to the US in 1983 to join our faculty.

“Dr. Marcow Speiser’s extensive international work embodies Lesley’s commitment to bringing theory into practice to help individuals and communities thrive,” says Provost Margaret Everett. “I’m so pleased to see her have the opportunity to bring her knowledge and experience back to her home country through the Fulbright program.”

Beyond Lesley, Marcow Speiser uses her skills and passion for therapy, dance and social justice to help people locally and abroad. She has worked with communities affected by the Boston Marathon bombings, co-facilitated a training for using expressive arts therapies in trauma prevention with Syrian refugees living in Jordan, and collaborated with the Israeli disaster relief organization IsraAID and Korean pastors and clinicians following the 2014 sinking of the Sewol ferry that resulted in more than 300 deaths.

“Trauma is housed in the body, so working with the body is a way of beginning to put into words that which is difficult to express,” she said. In Korea, she focused on this approach “as a way of dealing with the aftermath of the bereavement issues in families affected by the loss that they were working within the community.”

Her work across the globe has garnered recognition and made her an international leader in dance and expressive therapies. She received the 2014 Distinguished Fellows Award from the Global Alliance for Arts and Health, a 2015 Honorary Fellow Lifetime Achievement award from the Israeli Expressive and Creative Arts Therapy Association and, most recently, the 2019 Lifetime Achievement award in Applied Arts and Health.

With the Fulbright honor, Marcow Speiser will continue her work and wants to tap into the existing rhythms of music and dance that are woven through the rituals, traditions, ceremonies and beliefs of South Africa, “which are indicative of the wider patterns of connection and communication that permeate the culture across the linguistic, tribal and ethnic divides that continue to exist there,” according to a press release announcing the professor’s Fulbright honor.

Said Marcow Speiser, “I intend to formalize that capacity for rhythmic connection that is so deeply ingrained in the culture into the start of a professionalization of a formalized training program in dance therapy at the University of the Witwatersrand.”

By learning more about how indigenous music and movement can coalesce with healing, Marcow Speiser believes the Drama for Life program will develop scholarship and resources that will help South Africa and the entire African continent.