The Department of Dance provides an academic dance program so extensive in its offering that it is unmatched by any other university in the world. More than 13,000 students take classes every year in one or more of the department’s four areas of emphasis: ballet, ballroom, modern dance, and world dance, as well as in tap, jazz and aerobic dance. The Department of Dance hosts youth camps each summer for students in middle and high school to come to BYU and improve their skills.
As early as the 1890’s, dance classes were taught at the university. What may be considered the first class was offered in 1892 by Maude May Babcock. The class was billed as a physical culture class where students would learn “delsartean movements.” This style of exercise was seen as innovative because it focused on self expression rather than building muscle. However, the classes created an uproar on campus as news circulated that the girls in the courses wore exercise bloomers.
Over the next decades BYU taught an array of dance courses, yet lacked an academic social dance program. This addition was made shortly after Alma Heaton joined the faculty in 1953. Heaton, who had previously taught social dance at a nationally recognized dance studio, set the stage for BYU to become a leader in ballroom dance. His passion for teaching social dance gained administrative support in 1965 when University President Ernest L. Wilkinson became concerned with the types of dancing taking place on campus. Wilkinson felt that dances such as the “limbo,” “twist,” “swim,” and “jerk” were not appropriate for BYU students and mandated that the College of Physical Education offer more ballroom and round dancing classes.
A Dance Curriculum
"BYU was the first university to introduce dance into its curriculum; the school's involvement in the sport stretches back for a long time," observes Brian McDonald, president of the National Dance Council of America in a 1998 BYU Magazine article. "And now BYU is, without question, the most influential school in the nation in terms of identifying dance as both a sport and a respected curriculum."
A Successful Department
The Department of Dance has received international acclaim as touring groups, including the Ballroom and Folk Dance Teams, have performed in locations worldwide. Not only have the performers enriched lives through dance, but also through their testimonies and the spirit that they each carry with them.
In 2007 dance professionals John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow came to BYU and staged a ballet by Antony Tudor. As the project came to a close the couple praised the student's professionalism and capabilities. "The dancers here have been wonderful. There's a professional environment and a high level here. We saw a DVD [of the dancers] before we came and we were very impressed with the level of the classes they were receiving....These are professionals in the true sense of the word. Everyone's very respectful of each other....That's why the work has gone so quickly here; it's because of the dancers."
The Department of Dance is committed to preparing reflective, articulate dance artists, teachers, and scholars. Ultimately, the department hopes to cultivate dancers who honor and preserve the past, give voice to the present, and seek to define the future as it provides for study, research, experimentation, practice, performance, and the creation of new works. With the belief that dance, as an expression of art, is an optimal educational vehicle to harmonize the body, mind, and spirit, the department’s administration and faculty seek to integrate the scientific, the historical, cultural, and the aesthetic, in both theory and practice. The department is dedicated to presenting wholesome dance to a global audience and generating interest and enthusiasm about this artistic medium. The faculty maintains the strictest of academic, moral, and performance standards to ensure the richest education possible.
On June 1, 2009, the Department of Dance became part of the College of Fine Arts and Communications. Prior to that, it was housed in the College of Health and Human Performance.
Leona Holbrook became the chairman of the Physical Education Department at BYU in 1937. She retired in 1971, and Phyllis Jacobson replaced her as the chair of the Department of Physical Education for Women. In 1980, during Jacobson's time as chair, the Department of Physical Education for Men and Women was divided into two separate departments: the Department of Physical Education-Dance and the Department of Physical Education-Sports. Jacobson remained the chair of what was effectively the beginning of the Dance Department.
- Phyllis Jacobson (1971-1996)
- Sara Lee Gibb (1996-1999)
- B. Lee Wakefield (1999-2010)
- Marilyn Berrett (2010-Present)
The department of Dance is home to several student clubs, as well as local chapters of national organizations. Clubs in the Dance department include:
- Dance Major Student Representative Council
- International Folk Dance Club
- Ballet Showcase Company
- BYU Ballet Club
- BYU Student Dance Education Organization
- BYU Theatre Ballet
- Contemporary Dance Theatre
- YNews - Contemporary Dance Theatre's 'The Thing About Love' (17 Jan 2013)
- The Universe - 'Dance to the glory of the Lord' (20 Feb 2013)
- The Universe - 'Sleeping Beauty' will cast a spell at BYU (6 Feb 2013)
- YNews - BYU Theatre Ballet, Philharmonic to perform 'Sleeping Beauty' (31 Jan 2013)
- BYU Magazine - What's On (Summer 2012)
- BYU Magazine - Amazing Grace (Winter 1998)
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