Arlynne S. Stark, dance therapist

Arlynne S. Stark was a pioneer and early advocate of dance movement therapy.
Arlynne S. Stark was a pioneer and early advocate of dance movement therapy.

Arlynne S. Stark, a dancer who was a pioneer and early advocate of dance movement therapy and was a co-founder of the American Dance Therapy Association, died of breast cancer Nov. 17 at Collier Hospice Center at Lutheran Hospital in Denver. The former Towson resident was 71.

Arlynne was a wonderful teacher, inspiration, and was a leader in the field of dance movement therapy," said Chrystelle Bond, the founder of the dance department at Goucher College in the late 1960s, who was instrumental in establishing a master's degree program at the college in dance movement therapy.


"She was a very warm human being who had empathy for people who had problems, and she knew she could help them," said Ms. Bond. "She gravitated to dance therapy, and her death is a big void in the profession."

"She was very vital in developing dance therapy in its early years," said Sharon Chaiklin, co-founder of the American Dance Therapy Association and a friend of 50 years. "She was a hard worker, but she also had a great sense of humor."


The daughter of Harry Stark, a grocery store owner, and Lucille Stark, a Johns Hopkins Hospital administrative assistant, Arlynne Sue Stark was born in Baltimore and raised in Forest Park.

From her earliest days, Ms. Stark was passionate about dance, family members said. She began dancing when she was 6, attended Forest Park High School, and left Baltimore to enroll at New York's Juilliard School, where she planned to major in dance.

While at Juilliard, two events altered Ms. Stark's plans. First, she tore her Achilles tendon, which effectively ended her dreams of performing career, and second, one of her instructors had showed a film about dance therapy.

"I knew immediately that's what I wanted to do," she told The Baltimore Sun in a 1978 article.

Marian Chace, who had danced with Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis, modern-dance pioneers of the 1920s, started dance therapy in 1942.

In the 1940s, Ms. Chace moved to Washington and while working in area orphanages with disturbed adolescents employed dance therapy to help them express their problems. She also developed a program that would help World War II veterans deal with emotional problems brought on by the stress of war.

By the time she left Juilliard after just one year in the early 1960s and returned to Baltimore, Ms. Stark had studied with Ms. Chace.

"Because we had both studied with Marian, we both connected that way," recalled Ms. Chaiklin. "We were oriented by Marian as to what dance therapy was."

In 1966, Ms. Stark and Ms. Chaiklin, with whom she had worked at Crownsville State Hospital, had established the American Dance Therapy Association. Ms. Stark served as one of its early presidents.

"Our work covered the spectrum of all human needs because we live in our bodies," said Ms. Chaiklin. "We worked with those who had mental health problems, were drug-addicted or had physical problems. And they ranged from children to the elderly. It was a total experience."

While practicing dance therapy at psychiatric and mental health facilities in the Baltimore area, Ms. Stark earned a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1972 from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

In 1978, she earned a master's degree in dance movement therapy from Goddard College, and a second master's degree in administrative science in 1984 from the Johns Hopkins University.


Ms. Stark was a well-respected clinician at Crownsville State Hospital. She was working as a dance therapist from 1971 to 1978 at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital when she quit to become the head the Goucher College dance therapy master's program and to teach in the program.

At the time, Goucher was the eighth college in the nation to offer a master's in dance therapy, which is used like modern dance to demonstrate emotions and help patients express their feelings.

In a 1978 article, Ms. Stark told The Evening Sun that she regularly worked with psychotics, neurotics and others who suffered from character disorders.

The most difficult patients, she said in the 1978 Sun interview, were psychopaths "who manipulate other people and who are not honest, who hide their own feelings."

"Dance therapy is a very private thing. It can be one-on-one or in groups. And there were those with special needs such as the blind and deaf as well as those with emotional problems," said Ms. Bond.

"The patients always trusted Arlynne. She had to do that so they would speak out and she could help with their problems," she said.

"The body reflects personality, so I use movement to identify a person's feelings," said Ms. Stark, who said she welcomed the challenge of working with patients who had severe emotional problems.

"I'm successful with them," she told The Sun in 1978. "And I never know how they're going to be. I get to act out their fantasies with them. They make me a part of their world."

Ms. Stark began her group sessions by taking note of how patients sat in the room and how near they were to fellow patients. She picked up on their eye contact.

"We do a lot of sitting down and moving and stretching and reaching over and touching hands," she told The Sun in 1978.

After leaving Goucher in 1994, Ms. Stark founded a successful private practice and worked with several mental health practices. Another of her specializations was working with victims of physical and sexual abuse.

In 1997, Ms. Stark married James Mims, an electrical engineer, and moved to Evergreen, Colo., where she continued working in the mental health field until recent years.

Ms. Stark enjoyed walking on beaches and scuba diving on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, diving in the Fiji Islands and Belize, and shark-feeding dives off Nassau, Bahamas.

Other hobbies included baking, paper making and art projects. She practiced Pilates and yoga, which she also taught.

Ms. Stark was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and "battled it successfully until 2011, when it re-emerged," said her son, Dr. Jeffrey Samuel of Towson.

Plans for a memorial service to be held in 2015 are incomplete.

Ms. Stark is survived by her husband and son. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.

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