IN MEMORIAM: Joan Arnold

image (2)A Celebration of the Life of Joan Arnold
Sunday, May 22nd from 2 – 5 pm
480 11th Street in Park Slope
the home of Nicky Grist and Doyle Warren
pot luck – salsa band – rsvp to

Joan Arnold

Dancer, teacher, writer, healer–died at her home in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, after a two-year struggle with lung cancer. Joan was one of the country’s prominent Alexander Technique teachers, and had begun in recent years to develop a broader approach to her study of human movement. She was one of the first to bring Alexander’s Western analysis to the ancient practice of Yoga, which she also taught. Her students, both in Alexander Technique and in Yoga, benefited from her broad reading and remarkable ability to articulate subtle, yet potent, instruction that brought balance and ease to all kinds of movement, from everyday activities to the highest forms of art.

Born in Brooklyn in 1948, Joan grew up in Nutley, New Jersey, and graduated from Hunter College in 1979 with a major in dance. Joan’s physical restlessness and passionate curiosity about movement motivated her to explore a wide range of movement styles at New York studios – Zena Rommett, Alvin Ailey and Clark Center for the Performing Arts. She studied ballet, composition, improvisation, and modern and African dance with some of the city’s most outstanding teachers, including Charles Moore, Chuck Davis, Milton Meyers, Maris Wolff and Robert Ellis Dunn.

Joan performed with choreographers Midi Garth, Johanna Boyce and Margaret Hoeffel and, for three years, with Richard Bull’s Improvisational Dance Ensemble. She also acted in and choreographed for showcases and several off-Broadway plays. Most recently she danced in Christopher Williams’s Hen’s Teeth (2010).

From 1980 – 83, she was Director of Special Programs at NYC’s Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies, creating and administering workshops in Laban Movement Analysis, composition and improvisation.

For ten years at schools and camps, Joan taught children 2 to 18 years old creative movement, modern and jazz dance, composition and improvisation. She ran a summer dance program for five years at Camp Hillcroft in upstate New York, teaching dance and directing students in creating and performing original work. She taught creative movement at West Side Montessori School and, as director of Children’s Dance Theatre in Chelsea in the early ‘80s, she supervised faculty and taught jazz, modern dance and dance composition .

After her 1988 graduation from the American Center for the Alexander Technique, Joan served on its assistant faculty. Over the subsequent years, she presented and taught at many institutions, including the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Hunter College, Brooklyn College, the Atlantic Theater Company, New Age Health Spa and Equinox Fitness Clubs. She demonstrated the Alexander Technique on “CBS This Morning” and cable TV. For three years, she worked with colleague Hope Gillerman on the American Society for Teachers of the Alexander Technique (AmSAT) Marketing and Public Relations Committee, writing text and creating content for the national society’s Web site. Her articles on the Technique appear on a wide range of alternative health sites.

Joan began to teach herself yoga in 1969 as the basis for her home practice. In 1996, after years of focusing on dance and exercise, she rediscovered the practice and began to study with Molly Fox, Alan Finger, Michael Leconczak, Jodie Rufty and Jackie Prete. Over the next few years, she went on yoga retreats, wrote about yoga for national magazines, and continued to study with Jonathan Gordon and Jimmy Berneart. She completed an Anusara-inspired teacher training with Molly Fox and Jackie Prete in 2002. Joan taught weekly classes and presented workshops highlighting the pairing of yoga and Alexander Technique in NYC studios – at Jaya Yoga, Shakti Yoga, Yoga Center of Brooklyn, Yoga People and other studios. For the past three years, she taught Yoga and the Alexander Technique for teachers at the Kripalu Center for Health & Yoga in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

After 9-11, Joan began a remarkable odyssey in Columbia County. She bought a county opera house in Ancram and began to teach and produce performances there. It was there that she met her future husband, Jim Paul, in 2004. The two also paired as business partners, running the opera house for more than a decade, and producing dance, theater, music and literary presentations on weekends, while they continued to live and work in the city. Joan’s yoga class at the opera house attracted a loyal group of students, drawn by the care and deep knowledge she brought to her practice.

The subject of Joan’s life was freedom and grace in human movement, which she herself possessed in abundance. Her students and clients have attested to the remarkable effects of her work, to injuries healed and new abilities gained under her expert guidance. Charismatic and inspiring, she brought light and joy into the lives of all who knew her. She will be greatly missed. She is survived by her husband, her brother Carl Arnold and her nephew Lukas Arnold.

If you wish to make a donation in Joan’s memory, please send a contribution to Planned Parenthood.

It had to be around 1980 or so when I first met a tall, slim, young but serious dancer/choreographer named Joan Arnold.  She wanted to be part of one of the first choreographers’ showcases I was beginning to produce at my first studio, “The Living Room Performance Space”, upstairs on the corner of 7th Avenue and 9th Street in Park Slope.  I think she was just fresh out of a college dance program somewhere,  had made a trio for three women, and the piece was very rhythmic and slightly aggressive and warrior-like. Don’t remember the music — or maybe it was just the big long sticks that the dancers were carrying and they made their own soundtrack?   I do remember I liked her and the piece a lot — their integrity, the craft, the passion, the energy.  I also remember Joan telling me she also “taught Jazz dance” which didn’t add up at all for me at the time given what I was watching onstage!

From that time forward, however, over the next almost four decades, I watched Joan evolve, grow, expand, synergize and metamorphisize from beginning choreographer (and jazz instructor!) to Laban Movement Analyst chair, salsa queen, Opera House impresario, master Alexander teacher and finally revered Yoga teacher, while concurrently developing a noteworthy body of work as a published writer/ journalist in the fields of health and wellness.

Watching her professional trajectory, her uncanny ability to synthesize, her intellectual curiosity and accomplishments in multiple movement/bodywork realms over the last few decades, was more than impressive and awe-inspiring from the sidelines.   But what I really think of first and foremost when I think of Joan now,  the images and experiences that come back to me with the most clarity and resonance, all revolve around her sense of humor, her hardy, ready laugh, her goofy jokes and droll one-liners she could whip out as fast as a borscht-belt comedian you barely were certain you heard her correctly, except that she also crossed her eyes and stuck out her tongue just for a nanosecond upon delivery.  Her deft wit and humor were as paradoxical, surprising and delightful to me as jazz hands juxtaposed with postmodern stick dancing.  How she balanced her consummate professionalism, drive, and passion for her work with those tiny drops of silliness and levity was an unusual gift and totally disarming.  In addition to her deep intelligence, I think it was, at core, a big part of the attraction that drew her such a diverse, loyal and loving following.

Thinking back over the years, I am also reminded of Joan’s incredible kindness, generosity, enthusiasm and compassion when lying on her table in her apartment, injured or recovering from surgery as I recall,  where she made me feel like I had the best healing hands, heart, and mind working on me – and with me – that the universe could possibly provide.  For all of those times, memories, lessons, laughs and healing experiences spread out over the many decades we criss-crossed paths in Brooklyn and the movement world, I will be forever and ever grateful.  Forward and up Joan, forward and up.

Elise Long