Hanny Exiner

Johanna (Hanny) Exiner was one of the great influences in the development of dance movement therapy in Australia. Many of those who worked in the field in Australia learnt from Hanny not only many valuable skills and insights about dance as therapy, but also, most essentially, about the nature of dance itself. In 1997, when she opened the Dance Therapy Conference, she spoke of her implicit beliefs in the aesthetic experience of dance itself as a powerful and healing tool.

Born in Vienna, Hanny Exiner (nee Kolm) studied dance with Gertrud Bodenwieser from the age of four. She continued this training throughout her school years, completing a four-year diploma at the Wiener Akademie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst (the Vienna State Academy for Music and Drama) where Bodenwieser was Professor of Dance. After two years of tertiary medical study Exiner left Vienna at the age of nineteen to join Bodenwieser’s company, touring in Europe and then in South Africa and South America.


After the outbreak of World War Two, Exiner and Bodenwieser both, separately, travelled to New Zealand. They met by coincidence in Wellington where Exiner was invited by Bodenwieser to illustrate her lectures with dance practice. Exiner then settled in Melbourne where, after a brief interlude touring with the Bodenwieser company to Western Australia, she joined her childhood friend Daisy Pirnitzer at her Studio of Creative Dance (also known as the School of Viennese Creative Dance and the School of Creative Dancing) in Collins Street. In addition to providing day and evening classes, the studio hosted a performance group that presented both charity and paid public performances. Pirnitzer retired from the partnership after the war, and in 1953 Exiner established the Modern Ballet Group with Margaret Lasica as co-director. Both the Studio of Creative Dance and the Modern Ballet Group were central to the Melbourne modern dance scene.

Exiner’s interest in child development and education had seen her teaching dance classes at the Melbourne Kindergarten Teachers College in addition to her studio commitments in the mid 1940s.

She went on to complete her teacher training and then in 1961 travelled to London to study the work of Rudolf von Laban. On her return she became a member of staff at the Kindergarten Teachers College (from 1973 the State College of Victoria – Institute of Early Childhood Development) where, in conjunction with her colleague Phyllis Lloyd, she established the Graduate Diploma in Music and Dance. Together they published two books for primary school teachers – Teaching Creative Movement and Learning Is Fun When You Dance It. In 1977 she was a co-founder of the Australian Association for Dance Education, which was later renamed Ausdance, and first President of the Victorian Branch of that association. In 1986 she was awarded Honorary Life Membership of Ausdance.

Her skills and insights into dance and education led her to the insight that the aesthetic experience of dance was inherently a healing medium. As a result, she became a key innovator and influence in the development of dance movement therapy in Australia. She published widely in this area as well as in the more general field of creative movement education.

After retiring from full time work in higher education in 1982, Exiner opened the George Street Studio for Dance and Well-Being where, along with other alumni of the Graduate Diploma in Music and Dance, she ran community classes. In 1987 she was involved in the development of a Graduate Certificate in Dance Therapy which was offered periodically by the University of Melbourne until 1999.

She was a founding member of the Dance Therapy Association of Australia, having been one of the key people who strove for and worked towards its creation. She was an active member of its committee until ill health prevented her continuing. She served as its President from 1996 to 1997. The Hanny Exiner Memorial Foundation came into being through the devotion of her husband, Bob, and her sons after his death, as memorial to her and to support the field in Australia, which she had cared so strongly about and had been so influential in.

Written by: Naomi Aitchison, HEMF Committee, May 2016

Honouring Hanny's Contributions

Hanny’s life and work were honoured in a special edition of Moving On, the DTAA’s journal, in September 2008. READ HERE

This special edition of DTAA’s journal commemorates and celebrates the life and work of Johanna (Hanny) Exiner (1918 – 2006). The book is a luxuriously compiled collection of writings by Hanny, writings by others about her work and reminiscences from friends, colleagues, and students.

It contains the history of Hanny’s early life before she came to Australia, her work in Australia from the late 1930’s, the influences that led her to believe so strongly in the essential nature of dance; the impact she had on the development of educational dance and, later, the emergence of dance therapy in Australia.

This beautiful record of one of the great and rare pioneers in the cultural life of Australia in the twentieth century would make a valuable addition to the collection of anyone interested in the history of modern dance, dance education, and dance-movement therapy in Australia.

Hanny is celebrated on the Australian Women’s Register. READ HERE