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Dance Education Celebrates its 90th Anniversary

Three Dance Education performers dancing in front of bright blue background

This year Dance Education turns 90. We spoke with Program Director Deborah Damast about the celebration plans.

Our big event is the Distinguished Faculty Dance Concert, held on Friday, November 18th, and Saturday, November 19th. The performance consists of eight short original dances created by our faculty and performed by NYU students and alumni, as well as a tango piece by Steinhardt Scholars-in-Residence Leonardo and Olga Suarez Paz. These performances will feature guest speakers, and diverse dance styles and genres. 

We  will also honor our late alumni, Nai-Ni Chen and Kim Elliott, both of whom passed this year. Chen’s dance company, Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, will perform an excerpt from one of her dances. As former faculty in the Dance Education Program, Elliott choreographed a dance in 2016 that expressed her love for Hip Hop. Her original dancers, Dance Education alumni, will reconstruct it for the concert. These performances offer a memorial tribute to these women and a healing process for their students. 

Both programs are free and open to the public. Tickets must be reserved in advance. 

This Spring, Dance Education will host several Ugandan dance scholars, collaborate with the Joyce Theater (January), participate in a conference with the New York State Dance Education Association (February), and screen and workshop a new film focused on Audio Description for Dance, with Darkroom Ballet. April will feature tango workshops, master classes, and our  Masters’ Dance Concert.

Tell us about Dance Education's history.

In 1925, Louise Baylis taught dance courses, including Elementary Dancing, Dance Technique, Interpretive, and High School Dancing, in NYU’s Physical Education Department. Shortly thereafter, Jay B. Nash, Director of the PE Department, moved dance classes into the formal PE curriculum. Administrators thought there would be no registration, but many students were interested. In 1930, Martha Hill began teaching dance classes in the PE department with the goal of creating dance as a performing art; a year later, she began the Dance Club, housed in the Women’s Phys Ed Organization, through which mainly student-created work was performed at high schools, colleges, and conferences. 1932 saw the first curriculum in dance, with courses in Modern Technique, Dance History, Critical Writing, Repertory, Dance Composition, and Music for Dance. In 1938, the Graduate Dance Education Masters Program was formed. The classes were scheduled in the afternoons and evenings to accommodate the schedules of public school teachers. (At the time, the public bus fare was five cents!)

In 1951, Hill left NYU to found the Juilliard Dance Department. Her successor from 1952 to 1963 was Gladys Fleming, who focused on children’s dance. Along with Judith Schwartz, who taught from 1955 to 1985, the Program grew and began reaching out to the surrounding community and new areas, including teaching Creative Dance at NYU’s first study abroad program in Puerto Rico. Creative Dance was required for all students in PE, recreation, elementary education, and dance.  

NYU Dance Education has always had a connection to the community and a commitment to service, which we still uphold today. Beginning in the 1960s, the faculty taught dance classes to Head Start teachers in Harlem. At the same time, the Dance Education program began the Free High School Dance Workshop for High School students. Between 30 and 35 of these students from around the city auditioned, with participants selected based on their energy and intensity, rather than on their technique.

From 1960 to 1970, the Improvisational Dance Ensemble was directed by Richard Bull. Dr. Patricia Rowe directed it from 1964 to 1993. In 1966, the first NYU Undergraduate Dance major graduated; one year later, the Congress on Research in Dance was housed within the Program. In 1965, the Dance Program was integrated into the University’s new Creative Arts Division. In 1970, the Department of Dance and Dance Education was founded at NYU, offering BA, BS, MA, MS, EdD, PhD, and DA degrees. 1970 saw the founding of the Kaleidoscope Dancers Outreach company, which thrives today under the direction of Deborah Damast. Beginning in the 1970’s, under the direction of Marcia Leventhal, the NYU Dance Therapy Program became part of the Dance and Dance Education Department. 

NYU archives and our alumni house numerous artifacts: brochures, bulletins, and additional information about our past. We celebrate the history of our program as we continue to grow. We must know and honor our past, to move into the future with integrity.

What are your alumni doing since graduating?

Our alumni work in many areas of dance and dance education: public schools, community centers and arts organizations, dance companies, and colleges and universities. They work as teachers, curriculum writers, creators, and leaders. We have a tight-knit family of alumni who collaborate after graduating on creative projects, research, advocacy, academic writing, conference presentations, and professional development. Many are in leadership and advocacy positions and are changing the field. Our international students are taking the knowledge and research gained in our program back to their home countries and creating change. We often bring alumni back to speak with and mentor students. Our alumni serve as a supportive community, especially through ongoing professional development. This month, we will travel to the National Dance Education Organization, to connect with numerous NYU Dance Education leaders in the field. Our Steinhardt Dance Education Association student chapter will join us to network at the conference. This program is an intersection of artistry, teaching, research, justice, and leadership: areas in which we want our students to be fluent.

How has the Program evolved over the years?

I am an NYU alumni myself and started here as a graduate student in 1999. I graduated in 2002, and was hired as an adjunct faculty member with administrative duties to direct the concerts and community engagement. I have been able to vision and realize several initiatives, such as the Uganda Study Away program founded in 2007 and a new concentration in Teaching Dances of the African Diaspora founded in 2021. 

Additionally, we are always reassessing a sense of equity and justice, questioning “who gets to dance, who is dance for."

Anything else we need to know?

We’re already looking forward to our 100th anniversary in ten years. This is a community of lifelong learners. What we do as dancers is never static. Our bodies are always in motion, which translates to our philosophy: always moving forward and learning. We provide numerous service courses to the NYU community including Hip Hop, Jazz, Tap, Ballet, Modern, Afro-Caribbean, West African, and Dance as an Art Form, as well as workshops and master classes. Come join us by taking a class with us and come celebrate our 90th anniversary at our free concerts on November 18th and 19th at the Frederick Loewe theater. Dance is for everyone!  


We congratulate Deborah Damast for just receiving the New York State Dance Education Association’s Outstanding Leadership Award at the 2022 NDEO conference. Along with Damast, Dance Education alumni Andrew Jannetti (MA ’11) and Patricia Dye (MA ’03) were honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Outstanding Educator Award, respectively.