The Ohio State University Department of Dance History
The Alkire and Blaine years
One of the premiere dance programs in the United States, the Department of Dance at The Ohio State University currently offers the BFA and MFA in Dance and the PhD in Dance Studies, as well as a robust elective program and a Dance Minor. At the heart of the OSU Dance experience is the notion of embodied scholarship, engaging students in the intertwining areas of physical practice, creative activity, and theoretical inquiry. The department has been a pioneering academic institution in the nation and Helen Alkire belonged to a small group of visionary leaders who established dance in higher education.
The current department sits at the forefront of contemporary dance practice and scholarship, maintaining a resident faculty of thirteen full-time professors, along with a cadre of visiting artists and scholars who enrich all dimensions of the program and augment the standing faculty. The student body includes approximately 100 undergraduate students, 35 graduate students, 200 dance minors and 1500 general university students who take both studio and dance studies elective courses.
As with many dance departments and programs in American institutions of Higher Education, dance courses originated in the Physical Education Department at OSU. Physical Education was sub-divided into a men’s division and a women’s division, and it was within the women’s division that such courses were first offered. The dance offerings within the division grew to include modern dance among other subjects, and each PE major was specifically obliged to take a prescribed number of dance courses to fulfill degree requirements. By 1946, a dance major within the Department of Physical Education was proposed.
Finding no degree programs in Dance when she entered the university as a student in 1933, Helen P. Alkire earned her BS and MS degrees in Physical Education, where the offerings in dance were steadily increasing, but did not yet constitute an area of concentration. Alkire resolved to alter this landscape, and after joining the Physical Education faculty in 1940, she tirelessly engineered a series of steps that created first a major in Dance in 1947, then an official “dance area” within the Physical Education department in 1954, and ultimately a separate Department of Dance in 1973. Alkire would become the founding chairperson of the Department of Dance at OSU, having set the department on its course from the earliest stages of its existence.
By 1964, the faculty had grown to 5 permanent members, and the area had an enrollment of 50 undergraduate students, 7 graduate students, and 500 students who took dance classes as an elective area within their Physical Education programs. In 1966, a proposal was forwarded for a new degree, the BFA in Dance, positioning dance for inclusion in the emerging College of the Arts at OSU. By 1968, when the College of the Arts was established, dance made the final transition from an instructional area within the Department of Physical Education to a performing art division within the College of the Arts, which united Dance, Theatre, Music and Visual Art under one administrative unit/
1968 proved to be an important year for OSU Dance in other areas as well. Helen Alkire was named as Department Chair, and the MA in Dance was established. Among other important developments, Alkire hired Lucy Venable as a faculty member, and established the Dance Notation Bureau Extension for Education and Research within the department. The New York Bureau’s extensive dance notation library was given to OSU at this time, and Labanotation became an integral part of the curriculum, permitting student and faculty access to a vast and ongoing collection of previous masterworks of choreographers for performance and analysis. Odette Blum joined the faculty in 1970.
In 1969, the department acquired a separate building for its expanded offerings, which now included 11 regular faculty members, teaching 80 undergraduates and 13 graduate students. Three degrees were now offered: the BFA with an emphasis in performance, the BS in Education with certification to teach dance on the secondary level, and the new MA degree. In 1973, the Division of Dance officially attained the status of Department of Dance, an outward sign of its autonomy, with its own administration and budget, its own curriculum and its own nationally acclaimed reputation.
In 1975, the department moved to its present location in Sullivant Hall. Helen Alkire presided as chair until 1983, when Vickie Blaine succeeded her. Blaine had entered the program in 1952, earning both her BS and MS degrees at OSU. She had returned to Ohio to join the faculty in 1962 after a period of studying and choreographing in New York, and assumed the direction of the University Dance Company, the department’s premiere performing and touring group. Blaine’s teaching emphasis was focused in the area of choreography, and she developed a series of composition classes based on Laban’s weight qualities that became a hallmark of the department’s aesthetic and reputation. A year after she became Chair, the MFA degree was added and in 1986, the department received the elite designation as a Center of Excellence on campus. Both Alkire and Blaine garnered a litany of significant awards, and participated in the development of many institutions that are now intrinsic to dance in higher education, including COTA, NASD, among many others. Blaine’s direction of the department built upon the strong foundation begun by Helen Alkire, a foundation that has continued to inform the department through its succeeding administrations and growth.
- Helen P. Alkire enrolls at OSU, earning B.S. and M.S. degrees in Physical Education.
- Helen P. Alkire returns from dancing in the company of Hanya Holm in NYC, to join the Physical Education faculty.
- Helen P. Alkire proposes a dance major within the Department of Physical Education.
- Vera (Vickie) Jaffee enrolls at OSU, earning B.S. and M.S. degrees in Physical Education
- A “Dance Area” is established within the Women’s Division of Physical Education.
- Vickie Blaine joins the faculty of the Division of Dance, after a period of studying and choreographing in New York, and assumes the direction of the University Dance Company.
- Dance becomes its own Division within the newly established College of the Arts. Helen P. Alkire is appointed the first Chair of Dance at OSU, serving until 1983.
- The Division of Dance attains the status of Department of Dance in the newly formed College of the Arts. The Master’s of Arts degree is added.
- The Department of Dance moves into Sullivant Hall.
- Karen Bell joins the faculty of the Department of Dance.
- Vickie Blaine succeeds Helen P. Alkire as Chair, serving until 1995.
- Master’s of Fine Arts degree is added.
- Department receives the elite designation of a Center of Excellence on campus.
- Michael Kelly Bruce serves as Interim Chair of the Department of Dance, serving until 2003.
- Scott Marsh becomes Chair of the department, serving until 2006.
- Susan Van Pelt Petry becomes Chair of the department, serving until 2015.
- The PhD in Dance Studies is added, becoming the fourth PhD program in Dance in the U.S.
- Grand reopening of the newly renovated Sullivant Hall and Isabel Barnett Theatre.
- Susan Hadley becomes Chair of the Department of Dance.
- Helen P. Alkire dies November 14.
- Vickie Blaine dies December 26.