Thanks to the leadership and vision of dance pioneer Margaret H’Doubler, UW-Madison became the first university to offer a degree program in dance in 1926.
Nine decades later, the Dance Department is celebrating this milestone with a full season of concerts and alumni events throughout the 2016-17 academic year. And the centerpiece of this year-long observance of 90 years of dance at UW-Madison is a five-day festival April 26-30.
“This festival is a great opportunity for us to look back at our history and learn about the essence and spirit of H’Doubler,” says Jin-Wen Yu, professor and chair of UW-Madison’s Dance Department. “It also allows us to reconnect with many of our talented alumni while thinking about how we can strive to strengthen our department's place as a leader in dance and dance education in the 21st century."
All events during the festival are free and open to the public, with most being held in historic Lathrop Hall.
The festival includes six alumni concerts, 20 master class sessions and eight panel discussions and presentations, including a Friday Forum Lecture on April 28 by Stanford University Professor Janice Ross. The renowned dance scholar is the author of four books including, “Moving Lessons: The Beginning of Dance in American Education,” which highlights the origins and influence of dance in American universities, focusing on H'Doubler.
“Dance education gets eclipsed too often in the legacy of dance history, so I say bravo to UW-Madison for celebrating this history and saying dance education matters,” says Ross, a faculty member with Stanford’s Department of Theatre and Performance Studies.
Ross’ keynote talk runs from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Lathrop Hall’s H’Doubler Performance Space and it titled, "Recovering the Body: Margaret H'Doubler at UW-Madison."
Ross explains how she first became intrigued by H’Doubler while researching leading California dancer and choreographer Anna Halprin, a UW-Madison alumna who studied under H’Doubler and “would always say that everything she learned came from this teacher she had at the University of Wisconsin."
Intrigued, Ross conducted a library search about H’Doubler in the early 1990s and was stunned how little information she found. Ross followed up with a visit to UW-Madison’s archives at Steenbock Library and found a wealth of boxes of unsorted materials from H’Doubler’s teaching.
“I thought it was one of the great errors of history and so my personal quest to find out who she was became my Ph.D. dissertation and my first book,” says Ross.
Ross considers H’Doubler to be “one of the forgotten mothers of dance education” and is a key figure who “inaugurated dance as a legitimate academic enterprise, particularly for women, to study in American higher education.” Ross says H’Doubler taught the first dance class at an American university 100 years ago, in 1917, and then started the first dance major a decade later.
One of the more interesting things about H’Doubler is that she was never a dancer herself, notes Ross. But rather than that being a fault, Ross believes it played a key role in H’Doubler’s ability to build a successful dance program.
“People viewed H’Doubler as a physical education educator -- not someone who could be couched as one of those ‘crazy’ or ‘free-spirited’ dancers at the turn of the century,” says Ross. “That was her revolution by stealth, really.”
Some of the other presentations during the five-day festival will feature UW-Madison dance alumni from across the globe returning to campus to discuss H’Doubler’s influence and the many ways in which dance is connected to fields such as technology, health and education.
The alumni concerts, which will be held in the state-of-the-art Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space in Lathrop Hall, will also focus on the rich legacy of the past while dynamically looking to the future. Thirty-five dance works, each with distinct choreographic identities, will be performed over the course of the five-day festival.
Halprin's seminal work "Circle the Earth," which was staged for the Dance Department by guest artist Jamie McHugh (Halprin's protégé), will open the concert series on Wednesday evening, April 26, at 6 p.m. Halprin earned an undergraduate degree in 1942 and her life and work was celebrated this past fall as part of the year-long 90th anniversary celebration.
Also included among the festival’s works is a large dance project focusing on H'Doubler that was organized and supported by UW-Madison Professor Li Chiao-Ping. Li is collaborating with 16 alumni choreographers and Dance Department faculty and staff to celebrate H'Doubler's dance legacy of learning through doing – while embracing creative experience.
Li is titling the work “Worth a College Woman's Time,” after the charge that H'Doubler was given by Blanche Trilling, the director of women's physical education, to find dance's place in higher education.
“This has been one of the most fascinating problems I have ever given myself as a choreographer,” says Li. “I am collaborating with over 20 choreographers. We are meeting for the first time six days before the performance and will have a total of about 10 hours of broken-up rehearsal time during the festival. I am excited to work with each of these amazing artists and see what they will bring to the project.”
The five-day festival also includes a dance art exhibition in the School of Education Gallery (1000 Bascom Mall) and a special viewing on Friday, April 25 at the Chazen Museum featuring screen works by UW-Madison alumni.
For a complete schedule of events, visit this Dance Department web page.