Joanabbey Sack

An introduction by Dr. Stephen Snow

Joanabbey Sack, M.A., M.A., DMT-BC, RDT is one of the most dedicated and generous Creative Arts Therapists that I know. I can say “Creative Arts Therapists,” accurately, here, as she is registered both as a Dance Movement Therapist and as a Drama Therapist. For more than two decades, she has been a dynamic advocate for CATS. We first met around 1995, when the Centre for the Arts in Human Development (CAHD) was being formed. Joanabbey was hired as our Dance Movement Therapy consultant and has continued in this role ever since.

She choreographed many of CAHD’s therapeutic theatre productions, including The Winds of OZ, And Alice Dreams, and Romeo and Juliet on Dante Street. She has also supervised many students at CAHD. Later, we collaborated on a research project on assessment via CATS. She, along with Dance Movement Therapist Gurney Bolster, wrote an outstanding chapter on the use of Dance Movement as an assessment tool. You can read this in Assessment in the Creative Arts Therapies (C.C. Thomas, 2009). As a part-time faculty member of the Department of Creative Arts Therapies, she has taught “Introduction to Dance Movement Therapy” to many generations of CATS students. She is a tireless and dedicated teacher. Under my guidance, Joanabbey completed the rigorous alternate route training program for registration as a professional Drama Therapist through NADTA. She is now an RDT. It is no coincidence that we presently have good number of students coming to the Drama Therapy Option who also want to become registered as Dance Movement Therapists. Joanabbey was highly instrumental in the creation of the alternate route training program, sponsored by the Grands Ballets Canadiens, where several of our students are qualifying for DMT registration.

It is has been my great pleasure to work with Joanabbey Sack, in many capacities, over the years. For me, she exemplifies perfectly what it means to be a pioneer in the field of the Creative Arts Therapies.

Submitted by Stephen Snow, Ph.D., RDT-BCT

1. Please tell us what has been your path to drama therapy?

It is hard to say where and when a path begins; I think it is a gathering and interweaving of experience and the element of timing. Did it begin with the role of Laurie in the musical Oklahoma at summer camp, with opera training as a young teen, being part of Montreal theatre groups, the Effort Shape Training/Laban Movement Analysis with actors in New York as part of my Dance Therapy training, or as a dance therapist bringing all of these together?

In the mid-1980s, I was a dance therapist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital and was invited to teach a course on Dance Therapy in the Department of Art Therapy at Concordia. My mentor and colleague, at the Children’s Hospital and at Concordia University, was educator and drama Therapist, Barbara Mackay. We collaborated, taught, worked and presented together while helping to build the frame work for the Adolescent Day Treatment Center. This collaboration, friendship, and colleagueship was an important part of my growth as a therapist and opened the door to the world of Drama Therapy. As Barbara worked tirelessly to develop the program of Drama Therapy at Concordia, I was witness to the process and became increasingly familiar with and interested in drama therapy as a clinical, sociopolitical, and educational tool. Barbara and I presented together at the conference of Creative Arts Therapies in New York and I was part of the discussions, hopes and challenges as the dream of a master’s degree in Drama therapy became a reality at Concordia.

In 1996 I joined the staff at the Centre for the Arts in Human Development (CAHD) and worked alongside and within the Drama Therapy milieu. My roles as a therapist, supervisor, choreographer and researcher with the Ethnodrama team provided a rich environment for my emersion in Drama Therapy. At the same time, I taught courses in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies (CATS) in culture, ethics, and assessment. It felt like a natural and essential route to formalize my studies in Drama Therapy and position as a Drama Therapist. As a Dance Movement Therapist (DMT), I was well aware of the opportunities offered in Alternate Route (AR) training and early in 2004 decided to embark on the AR. with colleague and mentor Stephen Snow. I loved the process and the opportunity to take courses which included being a student in Tobi Klein’s psychodrama course, and to meet regularly with Stephen Snow for supervision of my drama therapy practicum. Performing Nora in a solo version of Ibsen’s Doll House was an important moment for me in bringing me back to days of theatre, music, and performance on my route to becoming a full-fledged Drama Therapist.

As I write this spotlight document I realize that my Drama Therapy practice has often been in the context of a collaborative and multi modal experience. The Centre for the Arts in Human Development is a place where the arts therapies enrich one another and offer an opportunity to understand and to collaborate.

2. What theories have influenced your development as a drama therapist?

The approaches of David Read Johnson and Susana Pendzik have been part of my work from my internship days. I became familiar with the work of Sandel and Johnson and actually then applied to intern with them as a Dance Therapist. This did not happen, but I followed their work with both dance and drama in the context of gerontology. Rene Emunah and Phil Jones were also important in my studies and work in Drama Therapy.

Laban Movement Analysis, a core theory in the training of Theatre studies was also a link to Drama Therapy and remains central in my teaching as a Dance and Drama Therapist. In 2005, I became more invested in the neurological perspective of the Creative Arts Therapies. My research as a Dance and Drama Therapist moved toward looking at the importance of the CATs student, trainee, and professional understanding the neurological underpinnings of strategies chosen to work with clients; as well as understanding the neurological realities of many of the populations that we work with.
Phil Jones, Sue Jennings, the famous five stages of Emunah, and extensive work with Stephen Snow all influence my work as a Drama Therapist and weave into my work as a Dance Movement Therapist in both teaching and in clinical work.

My extensive experience with Ethnodramas at (CAHD) and the actual involvement in both research and the creation of the works themselves is also important in my theoretical perspective and practice.

3. What are your current projects and the path of your work?

Presenting my research at the 2013 NADT conference in Montreal was an opportunity to discuss one of my projects: the Speech Initiative Research Project (SIR) at The Centre (CAHD) to the Drama Therapy community. This was in the context of a neurological perspective, collaboration with the Centre’s Ethnodrama projects and the direct work with the challenges in speech and communication tools for adults with developmental disabilities.

This project links to my work over the past eight years with what has become The Parkinson’s Dance Project/parkinsonenmouvement.
The neurologically based strategies that linked our research, classes, and performances of Parkinsonenmouvement were the seeds of the Speech Initiative Project. Both of these projects continue and publications are in process. The elements of drama and drama therapy in both projects cannot be missed by the participants, assistants, and therapists.
As a member of the Department of Creative Arts Therapies at Concordia, I have witnessed the development of a Master’s program in Drama Therapy and Music Therapy. I would like to be part of the development of a Masters level training in Dance Therapy at, or linked to, Concordia. Working toward this goal with the National Centre of Dance Therapy at the Grand Ballet Canadiens de Montreal is central to my work at this time.

4. How do you see the future of drama therapy evolving?

I see strengthening the collaboration in the context of art, drama, music, and dance integral to the whole of Creative Arts Therapies. There are an increasing number of therapists in training who want to add another form of the arts therapies to their dossier by participating in Alternative Route training in either Dance or Drama therapy. The match is a natural one and it is my perception that this is a growing trend. I think that facilitating this process can enrich the community and expand the choices of the therapists.

Another element is the strong generation of drama therapists who have emerged to create and support the future of Drama Therapy. In quite a wonderful, and (I feel) privileged way, I am inspired by drama therapists who were once my students as those former students become talented and highly skilled colleagues.

5. What does your NADTA membership mean to you?

It means continuing to collaborate with a community of professionals, leading to opportunities for exchange and continuing dialogue. The membership provides opportunities for us all and importantly maintains standards of excellence in the field.

Thank you,
Joanabbey Sack MA MA BC-DMT RDT

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Joanabbey Sack, M.A., M.A., DMT-BC, RDT

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