Looking back to move forward

Posted by Amy Russell on Jun 28, 2017 12:28:36 PM

Dancers in East Hall Gym in 1936 or 1937.jpg


It is my strong belief that in order to effectively progress forward in time, you must fully understand the path you have traveled thus far. This philosophy has been my guiding star as I research the history of the Western Michigan University Department of Dance.

The goal of this research is to document and analyze the evolution of dance at Western Michigan University. Much of the analysis will consist of tracing dance lineages through faculty and guest artists to understand stylistic choices in training university students. In addition, external factors, such as socio-political climates and trends within the dance industry, will be analyzed. My goal is to really understand why the department developed the way it did, which requires an understanding of university conditions, socio-political climates, and circumstances in the professional dance industry.

Much of the work in this research involves sorting through records and archives within the University Archives and Department of Dance, as well as documenting notable information including faculty, changes within the dance major, dance performances, and guest artists within the department. In addition, I will need to gather background information on elements outside of the university, such as dance trends during specific periods, significant social and political events, and dance artist biographies. I will also conduct interviews with past faculty and students in an effort to gather a comprehensive account of the evolution of the department.


Dance Class Oakland Gym with instructor Erick Hawkins, 1964


As a senior BA dance major, my experiences within the department have varied widely to help me gain as much information as possible in each of the many possible career paths associated with dance. It was after taking two specific classes, Ballet History and 20th Century American Dance History, that I found a passion for learning about and preserving our dance heritage. Through my dance history courses, I was encouraged to think broadly about the information. It was not enough to simply document the facts; my instructors encouraged me to understand why dance artists made the choices they did. What was happening in the world around them? What was happening in other arts at that time? Why did this movement in dance happen only in this location? These are all questions that are crucial to consider in order to fully understand the history of dance.

While much of my previous dance history research experience has been fairly narrow in the scope of its topic, this project is quite the opposite. The timespan of this research extends roughly 75 years, which is significantly larger than my usual research on just one artist or one era in dance. Though most of my research is just beginning, I have already learned a lot. From applying for a grant to managing my time to complete a project of this magnitude, my experiences with this research project have thus far been inestimable in their educational benefits, and I can only expect that there is still so much for me to learn.

This research would not be possible without the continuous support from the Department of Dance, specifically my mentor, Jeremy Blair, and past chair of the department, Wendy Cornish, as well as the funding I received from the Lee Honors College Research & Creative Activities Scholarship. I am unbelievably honored to undertake this project in documenting the history of the Department of Dance at Western Michigan University, and it is only with the support of the faculty that I am able to pursue this valuable experience and continue to grow as an artist and scholar.



This post is part of the College of Fine Art's Summer 2017 blog series, Going Places. Enjoy more summertime student blog posts by subscribing to the Fine Print or clicking the image below: 


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Topics: Department of Dance, CFA Students in Summer, Going places - Summer 2017

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