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50 years of Dance

James Pepper Kelly
June 6, 2020

“This year we benefited from the tremendous generosity of our alumni. So many of them came to campus to share with us the work they have been doing.” 

– John Bohuslawsky, School of Dance technical director and lighting designer, about 2019’s “An Evening of John B” alumni event.


Person dancing
Gladys Bailin, professor emerita in the School of Dance, performing in Odyssey, choreographed by Murray Lewis. Photograph by Zachary Freyman


With more than 50 years of practice in training students’ bodies to express art through movement, what do OHIO’s School of Dance students take with them when they graduate? A developed voice and a knowledge of how to creatively solve problems. 

“The creative process here helps students to find their own unique artistic voice,” says School of Dance Director Travis D. Gatling. “Students find out what it is they do that’s going to distinguish them from other dance artists in the field, and they develop skills of creative problem solving that can apply to many other fields as well. I think that’s just so important.”

Last year marked the school’s 50th year of dance, performance, and choreography instruction. Alumni returned to Athens and participated in workshops, performances, and networking. Many were students when Founding
Director Shirley Wimmer was at the helm. Some were recent graduates who have gone on to become high-achieving dancers and choreographers. But some have gone on to perhaps unexpected professions: doctors and administrators. All are united by one thread: a creative mindset.

“People are trying to find a more creative way to do things in [fields like] business, the sciences, [and] medicine,” says Gatling. “Our program helps them build that skill set.” 

Wimmer was an influential force in the field when the school of founded in 1969. Her focus was in modern dance performance and choreography, says Gatling, and in supporting the creative spirit within students. These foundational elements remain today.  

“Wimmer was really interested in the creative process and in the voices of students. That’s still what we do today: Emphasize individual creative voices. For a very long time, we were one of the only schools in the state, and probably in the nation, that offered a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with an emphasis on modern dance choreography,” said Gatling. “That’s what distinguished [us]—and still distinguishes us—from most other programs. The success of our students as choreographers is a clear marker of the strength of their training.”


Multiple images of people dancing
Top (l to r) Madeleine Scott; Winter Dance Concert, 2011, Photo by Kelly Brown; Professor Emerita of Dance, Mickie Geller, performing her original “Portrait of a Well-Hole” in 1992. Bottom: a performance from the Winter Dance Concert, 2009; Travis D. Gatling and Marina Walchli rehearsing in 2005. Photos from the School of Dance archives

Forward motion

Today, School of Dance majors can add on an arts administration certificate, which offers a focus on six different degree areas, including dance. Students can also continue their education by enrolling in the College of Fine Arts’ Master of Arts Administration program, which also offers a dance focus. This skill set allows graduates to direct community dance initiatives, like Athens’ Factory Street Studio, a non-competitive dance studio founded by School of Dance graduates where faculty often teach and students often intern.   

The 50th year celebration inspired Gatling to consider hosting a School of Dance alumni event annually. 

“It could be as big as a performance event, or as simple as a visit to engage with students however they choose,” he says. “The energy…has been really high. It’s important to continue that.”