Fannie Aronson

Pioneer of modern dance education in Michigan

Date of Birth: 1903

Date of Death: April 22,1991

Place of Birth: Cork, Ireland

Fannie Aronson was born in Cork, Ireland, to what she called “average, ordinary people.” At age 8, she and her family immigrated to the Detroit area.

She did not become interested in dance until after graduating from Detroit Teachers College in 1923 as a physical education teacher. Throughout the 1920s, her teachers and colleagues introduced her to important dancers and dance educators, whose concerts and lectures Fannie attended. During the summers, when she wasn’t teaching, she attended the Dalcroze School in New York, the Perry-Mansfield Camp in Colorado, and the Bennington Summer School of Dance in Bennington, Vermont, where she studied under Martha Graham.

In the 1930s, Detroit was a hotbed of labor and social unrest. The combination of unprecedented unemployment, poverty, dictatorial factory management and the prospect of another World War gave rise to a passionate group of modern dancers gathering together to express their desire for peace and to be heard through the art of dance.

In 1931, Fannie Aronson was one of three women founders of the New Dance Group, which met four times a week on 28 W. Warren and shared space with the Contemporary Theater Group. The New Dance Group was unofficially affiliated with the New Dance Group in New York because of Fannie’s associations with Jane Dudley and Sophie Maslow at Bennington.

Most members of the New Dance Group had regular day jobs as teachers, secretaries, or in a retail setting. Since modern dance was associated with liberal causes, the dancers knew they could lose their jobs if their employers discovered this association. To hide her identity, Fannie Aronson used the name Fay Arnold for programs, interviews, and publicity releases.

Fannie, also, was one of the founding members of the Michigan Dance Council, formed in 1937 with the goal of “stimulating an interest in the serious art of dance and furthering the cause of peace.” Throughout the late 1930s, the Council presented collaborative festivals of dance, sponsored guest artists, published a newsletter and produced an adjudicated solo dance concert. With the onset of World War II, the Michigan Dance Council dissolved and was subsequently replaced by the Jewish Community Center Dance Consultants Committee.

Fannie Aronson taught for more than 50 years in the Detroit Public Schools, most of that time as a dance instructor at Cass Technical High School.

“We did beautiful things at Cass,” she said in a 1979 interview. “I had wonderful students who were alive and creative, and were not afraid to take on ambitious programs.”

In turn, the students loved her back. “Working with you has been one of the most wonderful experiences I can ever treasure,” said student Ava Goldberg. “Anyone who could work with such vibrancy and endless drive could not possibly fail.”

Fannie retired from teaching in the 1970s and, in 1980, was awarded an honorary life membership from the Michigan Dance Association for her lifelong contributions to dance education.