IU’s Contemporary Dance Program

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The Terpsichoreans, n.d.

Indiana University’s Contemporary Dance Program dates back to 1927. Dancer Jane Fox, a graduate of Columbia University (NY), came to the IU campus as a faculty member with the intention of introducing “natural dance” to students. Though we know it to be its own department today, the Program first began as a part of the Women’s Physical Education department, under the supervision of the School of Education, which supported and funded it. Classes were held in the Student Building and in 1935, the first modern dance performing group, the Terpsichoreans, was organized. This group later evolved into the Modern Dance Workshop.

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“Modern Dance Workshop…” Indiana Daily Student, 21 Sep 1960

Jane Fox was not only a staunch defender of dance education but also worked to validate the art of dance to the campus in general. In her quest to gain a wide acceptance of modern dance as a legitimate art form and academic discipline, Fox garnered campus, community, and national support. She immersed herself not only into IU’s culture, but also became the Chair and Secretary of the Dance Section of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation (AAHPER), the head of the National Committee on Standards in Teacher Education in Dance, and frequently contributed scholarly writings to the Journal of AAHPER and The Dance Observer. Fox continued to defend the validity of the art form during her time at Indiana University, and soon the medium was well respected on campus.

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“Sports healthy for women” Indiana Daily Student, 14 Nov 1967

In 1949, the Dance Major Program was formed, and with continued support from Fox, as well as increased student enrollment, modern dance was soon seen as a legitimate part of the campus community and a respected academic discipline.

The Dance Major Program experienced tremendous growth in both enrollment and reputation from this time until the late 1980s, and had a successive number of coordinators to direct the Program including Dr. Jacqueline Clifford, Fran Snygg, Bill Evans, Vera Orlock, Gwen Hamm, and Dr. John Shea.

Despite their best efforts to keep students enrolled during 1988-1991, the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation administration decided that a moratorium would be placed on the Dance program, effective May 1991. Students would be allowed to complete their Bachelor’s degrees in dance, but no new students would be accepted into the Dance Major Program.

Program Booklets, 1980s
Department of Dance, Program Booklets, 1980s

Despite this massive change, the professors and staff members committed to the role and mission of the program spent the next ten years (1991-2001) attempting to salvage the work they, Fox, and others had put forth during the last 60 years. 1991-2001 saw an increase in the number of students enrolled in the Elective Dance Program, which gave them hope for the future. Courses were expanded, students were surveyed, and the administration began to discuss the possibility of reinstating the Dance Major in 2004. Once all of the reinstatement procedures were determined and the curriculum revision had taken place, the fall of 2005 saw the first audition and admission of students to the Dance Major since 1991.

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“Modern Dancers to Compete…” Indiana Daily Student, 15 May 1951

Today, the Dance Major Program is supported by 16 faculty and staff members. The program is based in modern dance, but students

"Spring Performers" 30 Mar 1967
“Spring Performers” Indiana Daily Student, 30 Mar 1967

also study ballet and world dance forms, and can elect to study musical theatre, tap, and jazz. The Program boasts over 50 Dance Majors and 100 Dance Minors.

To learn more visit the IU Contemporary Dance Program’s website, or visit the IU Archives to view the Jane Fox papers or the Dance Program records.

Olympic Connection: Jesus Dapena

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With each Olympics, we are reminded of our own connections to Games and memorable events or openings we may have watched with terrific anticipation. Not only have there been Olympic athletes with ties to IU, but there are Hoosiers involved in other ways. Recently, IU’s Jesus Dapena retired from the Kinesthetics department and his papers were transferred to the University Archives. Over the years, his impressive work has contributed to Team USA in the Summer Olympics.

Dapena studies the biomechanics of human movement completing a variety of activities, from cello playing to hammer throwing. While sports had always been central to his work, Dapena’s studies became more focused when he received a 1982 commission as the biomechanics researcher in charge of the high jump and hammer throw events for two U.S. Olympic Committee projects. His involvement with the high jump in these projects (the Elite Athlete Project and the Scientific Support Services) has continued even into recent years.

Dapena’s interest in track and field events began when he was a high jumper a young man. As he worked on his technique and watched athletes attempt the new Fosbury Flop (debuted at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics), Dapena considered the physics involved. In the 1980s he turned his attention to high jumpers, and he and colleagues studied videos and animations of potential Olympic athletes. The researchers would then produce a full length report on the individual’s technique and give advice on how they might improve. Dapena says that high jumping is part genetics and part technique. Since parentage is not easily changed, he suggests that teaching athletes technique is the best way to improve their chances of winning.

To hear more about the high jump, the Fosbury flop, and Dapena’s work, check out his interview on NPR’s Science Friday during the 2012 Olympics.