The architect of dance in higher education

H’Doubler with her ever-present sidekick, a human skeleton

Though Margaret H’Doubler was not a dancer—she took only a handful of classes in her lifetime—she is considered the founder of dance in American higher education. At a time when dance was considered an inappropriate, sexually promiscuous activity for women, she offered her students the chance to explore their physical and creative sides.

Born in Kansas, H’Doubler graduated with a degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1910. After teaching physical education at her alma mater for six years, she spent a year in New York. Blanche Trilling, UW’s PE chair, requested that she poke around the city and find some dance “worth a college woman’s time.”

Although H’Doubler was initially turned off by what she saw—particularly the stiff, imitative and possibly physically damaging dance that often passed for studio ballet training at the time—she was drawn to Alys Bentley’s creative movement classes for children in NYC.

She was able to apply Bentley’s creative problem-solving approach when she returned to UW a year later and taught her first dance class as part of a summer session.

Initially, her classes were for women only. They began with students lying on the floor—a scandalous practice in 1917—to feel the pull of gravity. H’Doubler encouraged exploration and self-discovery. For example, students might slowly roll from their backs to their stomachs, to study the motion and sequence of each part of the body as it twists.

Over the next decade, she crafted the curriculum for an interdisciplinary dance major—the first in the U.S.—within UW’s physical education department. In 1926, the program began accepting students. For the next 25-plus years, H’Doubler carefully honed the program. The goal was to create teachers; she was less concerned with training performers.

By the time she retired in 1954, H’Doubler had effectively franchised dance education: Many of her students went on to head dance programs in other colleges and private and public schools. Ten years before her death at 93, she received an honorary doctorate from UW. DT

Classroom Style

H’Doubler’s classes were notable for their unconventional start—on the floor, free from worry about balancing—and problem-solving approach, rather than a focus on technique. H’Doubler, who was not a dancer, rarely demonstrated for her students. Instead, she relied on a human skeleton (it became her trademark) to illustrate the body’s anatomy and physical ability.

Fun Facts

  • Soon after establishing dance classes at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, H’Doubler organized a weekly workshop for students to study dance outside of university coursework. She named the group Orchesis, from the Greek word for the universal nature of movement. Men weren’t allowed to join the dance club until 1933.
  • The University of Wisconsin–Madison dedicated its Lathrop Hall to the burgeoning dance program. In 1998, the university renamed the remodeled space Margaret H’Doubler Performance Space.

 

Two of H’Doubler’s students, circa 1920

The Legacy Lives On

Many of H’Doubler’s students followed in her footsteps, founding dance programs of their own. Some of her more famous pupils include Mary Hinkson, who became a leading dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company; Anna Halprin, the postmodern dance pioneer who founded the San Francisco Dancers’ Workshop; and, for a brief period, Martha Hill, who later directed Juilliard’s dance program. H’Doubler’s book, Dance: A Creative Art Experience, was used widely in U.S. dance education during the latter half of the 20th century.

Resources

Print:

“Margaret Newell H’Doubler: Founder of the nation’s first college dance program,” by Janice Ross, Dance Teacher, December 2005

“The Non-Dancing Mother of Dance Education,” by Janice Ross, Dance Teacher, October 2000

Web:

Dance Heritage Coalition: “America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures”: danceheritage.org

UW-Madison Libraries, Archives and Oral History: “Margaret H’Doubler and the Wisconsin Dance Idea”: archives.library.wisc.edu/uw-archives/exhibits/athletics/athletics16dance.html

Photos courtesy of University of Wisconsin–Madison archives

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox