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UVA’s Dance Minors Have a Remarkable History of Student Advocacy

Published February 22, 2017 in News

By: Caroline Newman | University Communications

In 1974, four years after the University of Virginia first admitted undergraduate women, a room in the newly built drama building was fitted with mirrored walls and ballet barres. These were the first of UVA’s dance amenities that students and faculty had been advocating for, hoping to provide more resources for students passionate about dance.

With the hiring of Nora Shattuck as a lecturer in dance, the next 10 years were the formative phase of UVA’s developing dance curriculum, though the road to establishing a comprehensive dance program had many obstacles. During the 1980s, upon Shattuck’s departure, the focus on dance coursework shifted toward movement for theater rather than dance. Eventually, classes in ballet, modern dance and jazz were supplanted with a drama-oriented curriculum that continued throughout the 1990s.

However, this academic year, the UVA dance minor is celebrating its 10th anniversary, having been officially established in fall 2006. This revival is thanks in large part to a groundswell of student enthusiasm in the early 2000s that had a lasting impact on UVA’s dance curriculum. Students like 2005 graduates Nicole Klett and Justine Okerson were determined to help establish an academic program focused on dance in its own right.

“There were a lot of extracurricular dance clubs, but we were really passionate about trying to round out the education side,” said Klett, now the artistic director of the Capitol Movement Dance Company in Washington, D.C.

“Now I am a dance educator and a number of my students are interested in attending UVA, knowing that they can get a fantastic education while continuing with the artistic side of dance,” she said. “I am so glad we went through that extra effort so that those opportunities are there.”

By 2004, Trish Gooley had been hired as a lecturer, teaching two technique classes in modern dance and jazz. Students continued to advocate for the expansion of the dance program, and it soon included two levels of modern dance and jazz and a choreography course.

In 2006, UVA approved the creation of a dance minor. Following a national search, dancer and dance educator Rose Pasquarello Beauchamp assumed the first full-time position in the drama department as a lecturer in dance. Pasquarello Beauchamp and Tom Bloom, then the drama department chair, shepherded the program from its inception.

Today, the dance program is under the direction of Kim Brooks Mata, with a growing number of students completing the minor each year, while dozens more enroll in dance classes or perform in the program’s fall and spring shows.

Pasquarello Beauchamp, returning to UVA last week to teach master classes and choreograph a piece for the spring concert, was pleased to see how the program she helped start has grown.

“I knew that I had students who were really committed to dance and I wanted to give them an outlet to study the theory and the art of production, design and improvisation,” she said. “It is really nice to come back and see things that are the same, things that are different, and to know that what is different is still great.”

Today’s dance students come from disciplines ranging from drama and the arts to engineering, biology, psychology, architecture and more. They describe the program as a vibrant, tight-knit community that enriches their other studies at UVA and truly gives students a voice in the direction of the program.

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