ALUMNI PROFILES — Winter 2003
   

 
Developing Both Rhyme and Reason
Aaron Naparstek, A.B. '93

It was the honk that launched a thousand verses.

Brooklyn, 2001. The fuming driver of a blue beater leaned into a single-syllable, marathon honk, Baughghghghghghghgh ... Inside a nearby apartment was someone fuming even more, Aaron Naparstek, who, after months of such assaults, had developed a chronic case of housebound road-rage. He made a decision: He'd head to the kitchen, pick up some eggs, and if the honk was still in midstream when he reached the window, the blue beater would get it.

"Baughghghghghghghghgh ...

The blue beater got it. And the driver responded in kind: "I'm coming back tonight, *@#&*@#&!! ... I know where you live!"

Terrified and remorseful, Naparstek soon realized his action was neither safe nor constructive. His solution was admirably more mature: He employed the contemplative verse of haiku and took on the subject at hand. His first creation: "You from New Jersey / honking in front of my house / in your SUV." The poem's unhurried cadence observed the maddening subject as if it was a landing dove, and Naparstek's creation, "honku," was born.

He wrote more: "Smoking cigarettes / blasting Hot97 / futilely honking"; then he began taping the unsigned sheets to his street's lampposts. Days later he discovered that others had written and posted their own "honku." The street, he says, had become "a real-life online bulletin board," complete with its own Web site, www.honku.org.

Within weeks a neighborhood traffic-calming movement was born. Soon after, Naparstek hit what he calls "the elite liberal media trifecta" —as The New Yorker, National Public Radio, and The New York Times all ran stories on the "honku" phenomenon.

Then came the book publishers. "A couple of people were saying, 'Oh, man, you need to put these together in a book,'" Naparstek says. "I told them: 'I just want to do something about the honking.'"

And he and the other neighborhood poets did manage to stop the honking for a good month or so, with the help of the New York Police Department, which came out and enforced the "No Honking (except for emergencies) $125 fine" sign on Naparstek's corner. Somewhat pleased with the movement's quiet progress, he reconsidered the book idea. He signed a contract in the summer of 2002, and Honku: The Zen Antidote to Road Rage was published by Villard (New York) a year later.

An interactive media producer, Naparstek soon found transportation advocacy making its way into his daytime career. His knack for both community organizing and attracting media attention landed him a role with New York City's Transportation Alternatives, with whom he's helped create a significant increase in car-free hours in Prospect Park and other pedestrian and cyclist improvements in Brooklyn. Naparstek's greatest thrill is knowing that "You can actually organize, and then compel the system to change."

A history major, Naparstek credits his WU experience for developing this drive. In particular, he cites the University's FOCUS program for freshmen and two specific history professors, Henry Berger and Mark Kornbluh.

"I took these amazing freshman FOCUS classes," he remembers, "about civil rights, labor movements, the history of American political action. It's something that has always been interesting to me, not just in theory, but in practice. I got a lot of that from Berger and Kornbluh."

From egg-slinging to verse-zinging to change-bringing—it's a development his professors can be proud of.

—Stephen Schenkenberg



When Words Are Not Enough, Dance
Caroline Leibman, M.A.Ed. '84

Dance therapy gives you a neck," said one of Caroline Heckman Leibman's patients, referring to the mind-body connections she has re-established through dance movement therapy. A registered dance movement therapist, Leibman says: "Traditional psychotherapy is a dynamic process grounded in a verbal experience. Authentic movement allows the patient to be seen and heard without using words."

Leibman, M.A.Ed., ADTR, is careful to distinguish authentic movement from dance: "Authentic movements aren't taught or prescribed. They are spontaneous, truthful. They come from inside." Because of the elusive nature of emotions and the painful experiences that often engender or shroud them, physical movement may be their purest, most direct expression.

In a minimalist studio with a gleaming hardwood floor and windows placed high to admit light but protect privacy, Leibman encourages her clients to fill the space with their raw emotions, while she serves as "witness"—seeing, hearing, and validating their experience through her compassionate presence.

Leibman first experienced the power of dance movement therapy at Washington University in 1981. Referring to the series of interrelated events that inspired her discovery, she says: "It's a wonderful story. I'm always glad when I get to tell it."

She begins: "I've always danced."

After earning a B.S.Ed. from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 1980, Leibman launched her teaching career, working with young children during the day. But in the evenings, she danced, in "those wonderful night classes offered by University College," as she describes them.

In the summer of 1981, she enrolled in a life-altering, three-week dance institute. Annelise Mertz, who was then director of WU's Dance Program, brought in a team of dancer instructors and one dance therapist to teach the workshop. "It included composition, modern technique, improvisation, anatomy, kinesiology, and dance/movement therapy. The classes were wonderful," Leibman recalls.

Meanwhile, she was teaching young children at the Eden Laboratory School. "Yet when I heard that the University had a nursery school, I went to talk with Maya Zuck, who was on faculty in the University's Graduate Institute of Education and in charge of the on-campus nursery school," Leibman explains. "Maya had just hired a dance therapist to teach creative movement to the children at the school. While she interviewed me for admission into the graduate division, she told me that I could develop an independent study, working with the dance therapist, and earn credits in the graduate program."

And the rest, as they say, is history. "Dance movement therapy brought together everything that I love—dance, teaching, psychology, the arts, creativity," Leibman concludes.

She completed her M.A.Ed. in 1984, then went on to earn a professional diploma from the Laban Centre for Dance and Movement in London. She completed a three-year program at the Authentic Movement Institute in Berkeley, and then trained with Janet Adler in Sebastopol, California, with whom she continues to train.

Today, Leibman maintains a private practice in St. Louis, serving therapy patients as well as a growing number of women who are committed to ongoing personal development. She also works part time at the La Montagne Treatment Center in Crystal City and at McCallum Place on the Park in Clayton (both in Missouri), facilities that offer multidisciplinary treatment for individuals with eating disorders.

And she also teaches at the University. This year marks her fifth as an adjunct faculty member in the Performing Arts Department, teaching dance movement therapy in University College.

"I feel as if I've come full circle," she says. "I feel very fortunate every time I walk across campus."

—Jan Niehaus, M.S.W. '80