Profile by The Star of South Africa
Written for The Star, South Africa’s lagrgest daily newspaper. 1990.
Joan Wulfsohn, dancer, world traveller and “wounded healer,” has brought bodywork therapy to South Africa. It’s the latest consciousness raising tool already acquired by many Americans and Europeans.
You could call Joan Wulfsohn many things: brave, brilliant, resilient, even a travel agent…of sorts. If you have a spirit of adventure, then you could take a magical mystery tour with her, end up where you started from, and know the place for the first time.
The life story of this remarkable dancer, world traveller and “wounded healer” has such extraordinary elements of pain and suffering that it would not be out of place on the Marquis de Sade’s bookshelf. She sees things in a different light.
Ms. Wulfsohn, a former international dancer and teacher, will hold a seminar in Johannesburg at the weekend on bodywork therapy, the latest conciousness-raising journey on which many Californians have wholeheartedly embarked.
Bodywork therapy, says Ms Wulfsohn, is teaching through touch to rid the body of the “automatic pilot” mode of travelling through life, caused by blockages set up in childhood as emotional defences. She supports the body and runs her hands, butterfly softly, over it; “the body awakes to new directions; the brain accesses a greater range of movement, emotion and intellect,” she says. In her work it is as if she and the person “dance together.” It’s an apt analogy, dance is a leitmotif in her life, which she describes as a “cosmic soap opera.”
Ms. Wulfsohn was born in Scotland, raised in Cape Town, and has spent the past 25 years dancing and teaching in Europe and the US. Twenty years ago she lost her three children when they were abducted by her ex-husband from the United States.
“I never knew where they- were,” she says, “until I was reconnected with them two years ago.”
She is at present spending time with her son in Cape Town. A year after the abduction, she underwent a double mastectomy and a “liberating” loss of ego. “When I lost my children, and both breasts,” she says, “I lost my identity as a mother and a sex object.”
But those were not all the obstacles life was poised to strew in her troubled path When she turned to a non-Jew for solace, she was ostracised by the Jewish community. “The last person they did that to was Spinoza,” she says reflectively, referring to the 17th century Jewish philosopher. She faced death, in a strange country, with no family, no money. “I either had to die, or rise above it.” She chose the latter in the face of “not tragedies, but magnificent life opportunities”. She embarked on a “heroic quest”, daring to take steps that she would not have taken before. In the process, she became the “wounded healer”: “You can’t heal anyone until you heal yourself.”
The mastectomy left her with restricted movement in arm and chest muscles because of scar tissue. Someone suggested she try bodywork therapy. It was, she says, a revelation. “Parts of my mind, opened that I didn’t think were even there,” she says. “I had always had difficulty with mathematical and abstract concepts, but suddenly they were available.” She studied under a Danish teacher, Gerda Alexander, who taught the famous Swiss-German practitioner Moishe Feldenkrais. The Feldenkrais method is popularly used in Israel to treat a variety of physical ailments, with apparently excellent results.
Ms. Wulfsohn developed her own technique, and began working as a therapist. Her motives, she says, were anything but altruistic “I had lost my children, and I needed to give that love somewhere, so I touched other people’s children.” She has worked with brain-damaged children, people with debilitating illnesses, and others whom doctors say they can’t help. She often receives referrals from psycho-analysts, when treatment is blocked by the barrier to touch She keeps fit and healthy through eating well and regular practice of classical ballet.