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The University of Illinois Is Celebrating 50 Years of Dance

Photo by Natalie Fiol, courtesy of University of Illinois Dept. of Dance

This academic year marks the 50th anniversary of the dance department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In 1959, when the dance program was part of physical education, its head Margaret Erlanger invited Merce Cunningham for a four-month residency—the first of its kind on a university campus. Since then, U of I has been known for its vibrant dance programs, faculty, facility and innovation in the field. There is much to celebrate.


The stellar group of artists who comprise the program's full-time faculty frequently makes the news with their new projects and tours, honors such as the Bessie Award and publication of new books in the field. The staff list includes Cynthia Oliver, Tere O'Connor, Jan Erkert, Abby Zbikowski, C. Kemal Nance, Endalyn Taylor and Jennifer Monson, among others. This year visiting artist Nia Love heads to Illinois to share ideas from postmodern dance, West African dance and butoh.

On average, the U of I dance community totals nearly 100 people per year. There are 12 tenured and 3 nontenured faculty members, 3–5 adjuncts and 2 staff, 65 undergraduate students and 12 graduate students. Located in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the facility offers four state-of-the-art theaters and five studios. Plus, there is a Graduate Dance Center with a studio and lounge. The dance department's offerings include a BA, BFA, MFA and graduate minor; the 2018–19 academic year also launches a new yoga-certification program and musical-theater minor through the school of music.

Michelle Boulé with students.Photo by Natalie Fiol, courtesy of University of Illinois Dept. of Dance

Projects and performances throughout this 50th year bring together faculty members and graduates of the department to create and perform together on campus. The celebration kicked off in September with the presentation of the prestigious FAA Legacy Award to Michelle Boulé (BFA 1999). Coming up is February Dance, which features a unique pairing of four professors with alumni to collaborate as peers.

Boulé is a wonderful example of an Illinois alumna with a full and varied career in dance as a performer, choreographer, teaching artist and somatic practitioner. "U of I was a home for my self-discovery as a young artist, especially as someone who became deeply interested in somatic and healing practices and their intersection with my artistic work on all levels," she says. "Returning to receive the award, seeing my former teachers and being flooded with memories by walking into so many of the studios and buildings helped me register the extent to which that has been true."

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