The Hanny Exiner Memorial Foundation (HEMF) is delighted to be presenting the Annual Achievement Award for 2020 to Naomi Aitchison, in recognition of her exceptional and significant contribution to the development and advancement of dance movement therapy in Australia.
Since Naomi retired from the HEMF committee, having been a part of it since its inception in 2001, this is the first opportunity it has had to present her with its prestigious achievement award.
Naomi Aitchison is – an honorary member of DTAA
- a past President of DTAA and Lifetime member,
- an educator providing workshops on dance movement therapy,
- a mentor to dance therapy students, and
- she helped establish the Hanny Exiner Memorial Foundation and was its’ first Chairperson.
After an early training in ballet, Naomi was drawn as a mature age student in her 40’s to Teacher Training in Drama and Education at the Melbourne College of Education. It was here she realised that it was the movement component that attracted her in education, she re-discovered the dancer within herself. In the 1970’s Naomi worked with various populations from parents and children, to the elderly. It was her work at Willesmere with a then called – psychogeriatric population which caught the attention of Hanny Exiner and Karen Bond, and she became a mentor and placement supervisor for students from the Graduate Diploma in Movement and Dance; a course she later graduated from herself in 1987. Naomi also studied with Marcia Leventhal and was a member of her first dance therapy training group in Australia for a year.
Naomi is a passionate believer in the power of dance and her early association with Hanny Exiner was strengthened by their interest in the professional recognition of dance in education and later in therapy and their mutual membership of the committees and working parties toward this end.
In the early 1980’s Naomi became a member of the Victorian branch of The Association for Dance Education (AADE) – later renamed Ausdance. At that time the membership was falling and the committee looked for ways to rebuild it. Naomi’s experience in market research led to a survey of members followed by the establishment of Special Interest Groups. Of these, the Dance Therapy group became the strongest and finally led to the Working Party and later the Steering Committee for the creation of the Dance Therapy Association of Australia (DTAA) – in 1994.
Naomi was Convenor of the Special Interest Group, member of the Working Party and Steering Committee. She speaks of her on-going commitment to the growth and development of Dance Movement Therapy in Australia as stemming from these times.
As a founding member of DTAA Naomi served on the committee for many years, taking on a number of duties including President 1996, Secretary, Librarian and Resource Officer, co-editing the newsletter which later became the DTAA professional Journal ‘Moving On ‘ and with her involvement in National Dance Therapy Conferences.
Naomi was awarded Life Time Membership of the DTAA in 1997.
She maintained a close connection with Hanny Exiner as friend and colleague, assisting Hanny with writing her part of her last book: Dance Therapy redefined: a body approach to therapeutic dance by Johanna Exiner and Denis Kelynack, with Naomi Aitchison and Jenny Czulak, published in 1994. Springfield: Charles C Thomas
Hanny is recognised as a foundation member of DMT in Australia and her husband Bob and sons wished there to be a legacy to her name. Naomi, together with others, were involved in the formation of the Hanny Exiner Memorial Foundation (HEMF). The focus of Naomi’s support for the DMT community shifted to establishing and achieving the purposes and aims of HEMF and led to her resignation from DTAA.
The Hanny Exiner memorial Foundation was established in 2001. Naomi collaborated with others to develop guidelines for the providing of grants and then overseeing the grant procedures. She was the Chairperson, Treasurer, Convenor, Secretary, citation writer, gift selector and presenter of the HEMF Annual Achievement Awards over a period of 16 years.
In 2017 Naomi resigned from HEMF but remained on the periphery as a consultant or support person for as long as required.
Since her retirement from paid work, Naomi has facilitated a regular class ‘creative movement and dance improvisation’ for the University Third Age (U3A) in Hawthorn. Since its’ inception in 2002 her class has been one of U3A’s most popular and we understand always has a waiting list. One of Naomi’s favourite sayings, inherited from Hanny is – ‘sense the nature of movement and …. be fully in the movement every second you’re in it ‘. During the Covid lockdown Naomi has been surfing the internet for all forms of dance – from all over the world – to forward on weekly u-tubes to her students, to assist them to maintain their aliveness through restricted times at home.
Naomi continues to be available to assist on the DTAA Journal editing committee when asked.
It is an honour to present Naomi Aitchison with the 2020 HEMF Annual Achievement Award. On behalf of the Dance Movement Therapy Community, thank you for your commitment to DMT and your contribution of many years of voluntary work over several decades, to the establishment and achievements of the Dance Therapy profession in Australia and beyond.
Mandy Agnew, HEMF Convenor, 2020