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Dance division joins drama department
STANFORD -- On her recent visit to Stanford, Chelsea Clinton had three requests: She wanted to talk with professors in the departments of biology, history and dance.
"We arranged for her to see a ballet class in progress, but she wasn't able to drop by until after the class was finished," says Susie Cashion, chair of the division of dance. "Still, we had a nice chat about the dance curriculum and she was a very charming guest."
The First Daughter's interest in dance is shared by more than 600 Stanford students who enrolled in the division's courses last year. With its move out of the department of athletics and into the department of drama this fall, the dance division expects to cut a prominent new profile among the other fine arts departments.
"Dance has been the one arts discipline outside the School of Humanities and Sciences until this year," Cashion says. "Art, music, creative writing all of them were in Humanities and Sciences, and all were included in discussions that were relevant to the arts at Stanford.
"Now, finally, the university has given us the same recognition."
The move, which came at the invitation of Charles Lyons, chair of the drama department, followed the recommendation of a task force that was set up eight years ago to look at options for the dance division. The task force had suggested that the dance division would be most compatible in drama.
"I'm delighted with the move," said Wanda Corn, co-chair of the art department and a vocal supporter of the fine arts on campus. "Dance has been an unsung program at Stanford for years, providing students with superb dance instruction, performing opportunities and dance history. Anyone who has been in the audience of the dance division's spring performances knows that these teachers and students represent a hotbed of incredible creativity and inventiveness one of the most creative centers on campus.
"It is long overdue that dance graduate from its very old-fashioned alliance with athletics into being one of Stanford's premier art programs."
At a time when dance programs nationwide are moving away from historic ties to physical education programs, most Bay Area colleges and universities have taken steps in recent years to house their dance components in drama departments or schools of arts. At the University of California-Berkeley, dance is part of the drama department, and at California State University-Hayward, it is part of the music program. San Jose State University includes dance within its music department, whereas San Francisco State University has housed dance in a new creative arts program.
"All of our faculty have been trained as artists and educated under the model of dance as an art form, rather than a form of recreation," Cashion says. "The time was right for this move, the growth was right, and the athletics department was very supportive of our moving into the drama department."
Under the new arrangement, which took effect Sept. 1, the dance division will remain physically located in Roble Gymnasium and Dance Studio, where the sunlit, basketball-court-size studios can accommodate increasing enrollments. As of this fall, the division also is offering a minor in dance for the first time in 35 years. The minor requires 21 units, with an emphasis in social, modern, jazz or Latin American dance, and a core curriculum of lecture, production and performance classes. A dance major is being considered, but Cashion says that her division does not have enough faculty members at present to offer one. The major that was designed in the 1930s was dropped a number of years ago.
As faculty members reflect on the history of the dance division at Stanford, they recount often colorful tales.
"Roble used to be basically an infirmary, and all the offices had sinks," says Janice Ross, who earned a master's in dance in 1974 through the School of Education and who currently teaches the history and philosophy of dance. "Men and women had separate physical education classes in the 1930s and instructors had to secretly get men into dance classes, since president Ray Lyman Wilbur had said he didn't want 'his' men dancing.
"There was more of a concept of dance as a form of recreation then, of giving girls a good experience in movement rather than producing artists on their way to New York."
Dance had officially become part of the Stanford undergraduate curriculum in 1911, but it wasn't until the division moved into Roble in 1931 that the emphasis in modern dance was clearly established. In 1933, Ruth Radir, an instructor of modern dance, created Orchesis, a performance club that held auditions for membership and expelled students who missed two practices.
Four years later Margaret Jewell Mullen arrived at Stanford to chair the dance division. She designed the first undergraduate major in dance, established a mandatory dance class for all physical education majors, set up an active performing schedule for dancers and clandestinely recruited male dancers. During the five years she taught at Stanford, dance was so popular that a box office was set up in the Roble lobby for students who wanted to buy tickets to dance concerts in San Francisco.
Another influential educator was Inga Weiss, a former soloist with the Mary Wigman company of Germany, who brought a strong emphasis on improvisation and performance. By 1974 Weiss had successfully instituted the university's first graduate degree program in dance, administered by the School of Education.
With the arrival in 1972 of Cashion, a specialist in Latin American dance who founded the university's Ballet Folklórico, dance forms of other cultures found a new spotlight. A recipient of Fulbright grants to Mexico and Chile, Cashion had done her master's and doctoral research in dance anthropology, and she began to cross-list her classes in the anthropology department.
"We also opened up our classes to the distribution requirements when that program was put in place," Cashion says. "And suddenly the numbers shot up: We were used to classes with 12 and 15 students, but overnight there were 60 signing up."
As the dance division has expanded its course offerings in African, jazz, ballet, modern and Latin American dance, it has attracted faculty with national reputations. Members of the dance division have served as consultants and board members for the National Endowment for the Arts, California Arts Council, Congress on Research in Dance and Dance Critics Association, in addition to the Bush and Rockefeller foundations.
The current faculty includes Kristine Elliott, a leading dancer with the American Ballet Company; Diane Frank, former faculty member at the Merce Cunningham School in New York; Tony Kramer, a former member of Wimmers, Wimmers and Dancers; Robert Moses, a dancer and choreographer with ODC/SF and Twyla Tharp; and Richard Powers, a vintage dance teacher and choreographer who earned his undergraduate degree in engineering at Stanford and went on to found a major dance ensemble in Cincinnati before returning to Stanford to establish the Stanford Vintage Dance Ensemble in 1993.
This year, Powers will offer a new course in period movement of the Shakespeare era, in which students will learn how dance was shaped for opera and theater.
"That's a class we could never have done with our own population," Cashion said. "But in our new home in the drama department, we're looking at a lot of new possibilities."
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