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Ohio University Libraries highlights documentary dance film, ‘An Interview with Gladys Bailin’

Published: May 20, 2022 Author: Dr. Tresa Randall, associate professor of dance

This year, Ohio University Libraries was able to tell many stories through different media thanks to the new online format of the Libraries’ annual Gatherings publication. One such story was about the career of Gladys Bailin, director emerita and distinguished professor in the School of Dance, who donated the Gladys Bailin Papers and established the Libraries’ Alwin Nikolais/Murray Louis/Gladys Bailin Archive to preserve and access these collections for future generations.

A tireless champion of dance as an art form, Bailin has inspired generations of dancers with her keen wit, amiable humor and discerning eye. In her endeavors as a performer, choreographer, teacher, administrator and mentor, she is perennially creative, rigorous and energetic. In the interview, Bailin reflects on her early training in New York City with dance legend Alwin Nikolais, her international career as a performer and choreographer, and her impact on the School of Dance at Ohio University.

As Bailin recounts, when she studied with Nikolais at the Henry Street Playhouse in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was experimenting with a new form of dance, modernism, which emphasized abstract movement concepts and gave movement, sound and light equal importance on the stage.

Even among a brilliant group of young dancers who brought Nikolais’ new ideas to life, Bailin stood out with her musicality and her impeccable sense of motion. She lent her own movement ideas to Nikolais’ creative process, originating roles in all of Nikolais’ groundbreaking works of this period. For more than 20 years, she performed professionally with the Alwin Nikolais Dance Company, Murray Louis Dance Company, Don Redlich Dance Company, and as a freelance soloist touring nationally and internationally, performing on television, and appearing in the most respected dance festivals.

Ohio University was fortunate that Shirley Wimmer, founder of the School of Dance, recognized Bailin’s talents as a teaching artist and invited her to join the faculty in 1972. Bailin profoundly shaped the curriculum, giving the School of Dance a national reputation for a diverse curriculum centered on composition as a rigorous creative activity and a conceptual approach to movement. By creating innovative dances – alternately abstract, light-hearted and deeply moving – for herself, her students and professional dancers, she provided an abiding model of curiosity and commitment. Her work has been funded by four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and has been performed across the country.

Bailin provided key leadership for the academic study of dance in the 1980s and 1990s, a time of enormous growth for dance in higher education, and has served as an onsite accreditor of higher-education programs for the National Association of Schools of Dance. She became the director of the School of Dance in 1983, serving until 1995. In 1986, she was the first woman to be named a Distinguished Professor of Ohio University, an honor that recognized the breadth and depth of her accomplishments in the field.

Watch the documentary dance video to hear about Bailin’s career from Bailin herself below.