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Decades of Dance

Decades of DanceThe Tufts Dance Program celebrates 25 years of bringing the university together through dance.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [12.04.08] From football players to philosophy majors, the Tufts Dance Program has spent the past two decades bringing together students from across the Tufts spectrum to share in a love and appreciation for the art of dance.

"We have no major, so the great thing for us is that we are dancing with every department, every class year, every interest," says Director Alice Trexler. "It is amazing the breadth of students we have."

On Nov. 21, the department celebrated its 25th year in existence with a concert featuring the Tufts Dance Ensemble, directed by lecturer Daniel McCusker.


While dance did not come under the rubric of the Drama Department until 1983, Trexler says the art form really began to enter the Tufts scene in the early 1970s, when alum Art Bridgman (A'72), his wife Myrna Packer and Harry Streep, brother of actress Meryl Streep, taught a dance course in the Experimental College. When the program officially established in the late 1970s, the program was placed under the realm of physical education and housed in what is now the Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center.

Now, 25 years later, students have the option to minor in dance or use dance courses toward their arts requirement.

"Once I became tenured, it became clear that dance needed an arts context," Trexler says. "So, working closely with the deans and faculty, we were able to bring dance into what is now the Department of Drama and Dance."

Moving into the small space of what was then the Jackson Lounge, a tea-drinking area for the women of Jackson College, the program quickly outgrew its space and began to overflow into the Jackson Gym. Now, the lounge serves as the program's studio and a portion of the gym functions as the Jackson Dance Lab, which was renovated in 2006.

Since its establishment as a program, Trexler says the department has made a number of notable hires, including McCusker, who danced for seven years in the U.S. and Europe with the Lucinda Childs Dance Company, and Mila Thigpen, who initiated the university's popular salsa course.

Aside from helping students fulfill their arts requirements, the Tufts dance program has also helped act as a springboard for a number of popular extracurricular dance clubs. One of these is the Tufts Dance Collective, which, with between 200 and 300 members, is one of the largest social groups on campus, according to Trexler.

One of the greatest accomplishments of the program, however, has been dispelling the stereotype that dance is a frivolous, female-only pastime.

"For the past five to eight years we have had a number of athletes who have come over to fulfill their arts requirement and wind up pleasantly surprised with what they find," Trexler says. "We have four football players, two hockey players, a baseball player and someone from the women's volleyball team. It is definitely not the persona that they walk around with, but dance makes them become a different person and they see a different side of themselves that they may not have seen without it.

"The goal of the dance program is to support the liberal arts goals of the university, creating critical thinkers and those not afraid of the new," Trexler says. "We enjoy the challenge of proving this is worth the time."

Interested in learning more about the history of dance at Tufts? Visit Jackson Gym to view a timeline of the program's history, including a section called "Look who danced with us" that can also be found at the Tisch Library.

Profile by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications.
Slide show Photos by Jodi Hilton for University Photography. Audio of Alice Trexler by Kaitlin Melanson.

Correction: Myrna Packer is the wife and dance collaborator of 70's alumnus, Art Bridgman, who was a student activist on the dance scene then. Ms Packer did not attend Tufts. The driving force of the dance explosion of the 70's was the instructor of that period, Griselda White, a brilliant educator, mentor, and award-winning faculty member at Tufts.

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