About Franziska Marie Boas
Franziska Marie Boas (b. 8 Jan. 1902; d. 22 Dec. 1988), pioneering dancer, percussionist, teacher, ethnologist, and therapist, was born in New York City, the youngest of six children of noted anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942) and Marie Krackowizer. Like her father who was known for his commitment to social activism and his battle to rid the scientific community of racially based theories of intelligence, Franziska Boas was also a committed activist for racial equality and social justice. She worked to teach young people about the value of dance as a means of communication; she pioneered dance as therapy; she encouraged students to expand their own creativity through improvisation; she combined the study of dance with ethnology; and she broke down the racial barriers that stood in the way of almost all African-Americans wishing to pursue careers in dance.
Franziska Boas was educated in public schools in Englewood, N.J., and in 1923 received a B.A. degree in Zoology and Chemistry from Barnard College. Undergraduate studies included dance with Bird Larson, with whom she continued to study from time to time after graduation. Other formal study included drawing and sculpture with Robert Laurent and Boardman Robinson, at the Art Students League in New York from 1923 to 1924, and in Breslau, Germany in 1927. Dance studies included working with Mary Wigman in Germany and with Hanya Holm in New York where she served as Holm's assistant and percussionist until 1933. In 1928, Boas married Nicholas Michelson, a doctor. They had one child, Gertrud Marie Michelson (Trudel), who was born June 16, 1929. They were divorced in 1942.
In 1933 Boas founded and directed the Boas School of Dance at 323 W. 21st Street in New York. It was an interracial school with a performing company which Boas directed from it's founding until 1949. Among her many notable pupils were Ed Bates, Valerie Bettis, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Norman Coker, Katherine Dunham, Claude Merchant and Alwin Nikolais. In 1944 she founded the Boas Summer School of Dance on Lake George in Bolton Landing, NY. Also an interracial school, it continued under her direction until 1950. Besides teaching in her own schools, she also taught at the Walden School in New York, Bennington College, Mills College, Columbia University Teachers College, The Horace Mann School, Bank Street College, Bryn Mawr College, Colorado State Teachers College and The Savage School for Physical Education. The thrust of Boas' teaching, which sought to provide social integration through dance and other artistic endeavors, was taken even further through her work with schizophrenic children at Bellevue Hospital in New York. There, while working with psychiatrist Lauretta Bender, Boas pioneered the use of dance movement in the therapeutic treatment of profoundly disturbed patients. Work at Bellevue continued throughout the 1940s, all of which she did as a volunteer.
In the early 1940s Boas created the first Western all-percussion orchestra. From 1947 to 1949 she toured the U.S. giving dance performances, lecture-demonstrations in dance, percussion performances. During this period Boas also continued to explore and study dance therapy at numerous institutions: the Menninger Institute, U.C.L.A., the Langley Porter Institute, Anna Halprin Studio, Stanford University, University of Wisconsin, University of Washington, Wayne State University, Veterans Administration Hospital, North Texas State College, Indiana University, Art Students League in New York, Bolton Music Festival, Scripps College, Fresno State Teachers College, Lake Erie College, the New School for Social Research and various meetings of the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (AAHPER).
Franziska Boas' writings include two groundbreaking articles on dance as therapy: "Creative Dance as Therapy" in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry and "Psychological Aspects in the Practice and Teaching of Dancing" in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Both were published in 1941. Probably her most noted work, particularly among dance ethnologists, was an edited volume from the seminar series The Function of Dance in Human Society. This was based on a series of seminars that took place at her studio in 1942 and was published in 1944. Participants included Franz Boas, Harold Courlander, Claire Holt, Gregory Bateson, George Herzog, Cora DeBois, and Geoffrey Gorer.
In 1950, personal and economic setbacks forced Boas to leave New York and take a position at Shorter College in Rome, Georgia, as Head of the Dance and Physical Education Department. In 1957, the department became the Dance Department, Division of Fine Arts. Boas remained there until 1965. Between 1950 and 1959, she was very active in the Southern Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (SAHPER), and in 1955 she organized the Georgia Dance Association. Within the curriculum at Shorter, Boas introduced the concept of culture in her dance history classes, clearly going beyond the contemporaneously accepted historical perspectives on dance. During this time she was also a member of the Georgia Council on Human Relations and a founding member of the Rome (Ga.) Council on Human Relations, an organization devoted to advancing the cause of integration.
In 1965 Boas took an early retirement from Shorter College and moved to Sandisfield, Mass., where she was active in the Sandisfield Arts Council and taught dance at the Sandisfield Town Hall to community residents. In 1986 Boas attended the Hunt-Boas family reunion in Alert Bay, British Columbia. It celebrated the meeting of Franz Boas and the Kwakuitl Indian informant, George Hunt. All living descendants of both men attended and, at 84, Franziska Boas was the oldest attendee.
Despite suffering from Alzheimer's disease during the last four years of her life, Franziska Boas remained active--still dancing in the fall of her last year--until her death on December 22, 1988. She is survived by her daughter Gertrud Marie Michelson and three granddaughters, Valerie, Carol, and Cindy Pinsky. A memorial service was held at Barnard College in New York on April 30, 1989. Franziska Boas, though not a well-known dancer or choreographer, as are Martha Graham, Charles Weidman and other contemporaries, is known for the way in which she combined her dance talents with wide-ranging social and professional concerns, creating and defining many of the sub-fields of dance that are studied today. An obituary written by her granddaughter Valerie Pinsky states: "She will be remembered as a woman of extraordinary grace and vitality, whose life could not have been more rich, and whose sense of humor was never lost."