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Walking on the walls at Stony Brook to a career in dance

Rena Kornblum takes a different view of a

Rena Kornblum takes a different view of a hallway at Stony Brook University's experimental college in this 1971 photo. Photo Credit: Newsday / Rex Lyons

Editor’s note: This article is a part of series that tells the story behind photographs from Newsday’s archives.

Rena Kornblum never imagined a snapshot of her in a college dormitory would foreshadow her career path.

As a college student at Stony Brook University in 1971, Kornblum would often climb the walls of her Stony Brook University dorm’s hallways, placing her hands on one wall and her feet on the other to walk herself up off the ground.

She could also do the splits, with one foot on each wall.

She wasn’t really a gymnast, just a bored college student with a penchant for creativity and a desire to move. An intrigued Newsday photographer snapped a photo of one of her gymnastic moments for a 1971 story on the creativity and uniqueness of Stony Brook’s Experimental College.

“I remember walking along the walls frequently in my freshman year,” said Kornblum, now 65 and living in Madison, Wisconsin.“I loved moving, as you can tell from that picture.”

At the time, Kornblum was figuring out what she wanted to study, she said.

The Experimental College was a small program that allowed students to focus on individual projects for a year, with no exams and a maximum of 60 credits earned toward graduation.

The college arose out of student discontent with how the college was being built and run in its early days, said Joel Rosenthal, a Stony Brook history professor who wasn’t involved with the program.

Students lived on a single floor of a dorm building and had minimal supervision. They took whatever classes suited them at the moment. The program was short-lived, lasting around three years.

Kornblum said she doesn’t remember getting much academically out of her year in the Experimental College. It was the personal connections she made that helped her thrive, she said.

She danced as much as she could and took psychology classes.

“A lot of it was community building, being together with the same people and working things out,” she said.

She played classical guitar with other students in a folk band and yes, walked the walls. It was the making of what would become an unexpected career for Kornblum.

“I loved working with people,” she said.

Her academic path eventually led her to dance and movement therapy. After the Experimental College, some friends at Stony Brook encouraged her to take a class exploring movement and individual movement preferences.

“Several of my friends who took that ended up doing dance therapy themselves,” Kornblum said.

Now she teaches at the University of Wisconsin, works at the Hancock Center for Dance/Movement Therapy in Madison, and has written several books on dance and movement therapy.

She’s still in touch with several longtime friends from the Experimental College.

“What stood out to me was the connection with people,” she said.

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