Lillian Weisberg

Dance/movement therapist Lillian Weisberg turns 100 on January 26, 2020.

One of Lillian’s proudest professional accomplishments was helping to found Cleveland Modern Dance Association, now DANCECleveland, whose mission was to make modern dance known as an art form. After attending a week-end workshop where she met 35 dancers from all over Cleveland, it was Lillian’s idea to establish an organization. Lillian approached other dancers and teachers in an effort to organize, but most were too busy. Lillian persevered and found one other woman willing to meet with her and start an organization in 1956. They began meeting weekly, teaching class to one another, eventually bringing in others to teach, and to perform. The list of dance artists brought in to teach reads like a compendium of Modern Dance artists in the mid 20th century, including the likes of Charles Weidman, José Limón, and Joseph Gifford.

Lillian began teaching the first children’s classes at Karamu, an interracial settlement house, where high standards of excellence in the arts were valued. (Karamu is a Swahili word meaning “Place of enjoyment in the Center of the Community”. She became dance coordinator at the Jewish Community Center, teaching women beginning modern dance. In an American Dance Guild Association newsletter, Lillian read about the American Dance Therapy Association. She began to read and study, and in 1974 went to her first conference in New York. “And I was hooked! Hook, line and sinker! To me, dance therapy is the ultimate reason for dancing, because when I danced, it felt wonderful: it was my therapy.”

Lillian brought the idea of bringing dance therapy workshops to Cleveland to the executive committee of the Cleveland Modern Dance Association, and they began what would now be considered an Alternate Route program with her as the coordinator. Their first dance therapy workshop was with Penny Bernstein. They then brought in Stephanie Katz, Lynni Diehl, and Sharon Chaiklin. Lillian went to every single annual ADTA conference after 1976, as that was her continuing education.

Lillian remains a passionate advocate for the field. She is a networker extraordinaire. She keeps in touch with people whom she’s met for decades, and lets them know when there’s something she thinks would be of interest to them. According to DMT Heather Hill, Liljan Espenak passed on her notebooks to Lillian Weisberg. She remained in touch with dancer, choreographer Joseph Gifford until his death a couple of years ago, and counts among her friends Naomi Feil, of Validation Therapy fame. Lillian is active on FB, passing along information about dance, DMT, and neuroscience.

At 100 years old, Lillian shines as an inspiration to many.

Written by: Donna Newman-Bluestein, MEd, BC-DMT, CMA, LMHC