Historicizing Dance at Illinois: Milestones and Contributions

The University of Illinois has made many contributions to different fields of knowledge throughout its history; an important aspect of this history is Illinois’ contributions to modern dance.

Although dance performances were taking place at Illinois as early as 1898 through, for example, the May Fête celebrations, the early 20th century saw dance at Illinois evolve from a recreational activity such as the May Fête to high-end artistic and academic education.

By 1920, the Department of Physical Education for Women offered academic credits for two dance classes: “interpretative” and “natural” dance (see the Dance Department’s history page). However, it was Professor Margaret Erlanger whose work lead to the re-interpretation of dance in the University as a form of art and an academic subject, beyond its recreational and athletic dimensions. Erlanger came to Illinois in 1948 to the Department of Physical Ed for Women, and that same year began to work intensively to push forward the creation of a Dance Division that would offer a B.A. in Dance. By then, only ten schools across the country were offering a degree in Dance, as Erlanger notes in a May 2nd 1949 letter to the director of Physical Education (letter linked through the image below, page 4). Erlanger, one of the first graduates from the pioneer program at the University of Wisconsin led by Margaret H’Doubler, addressed University administrators with strong arguments about the emergence of Modern Dance, the importance of implementing an academic program at Illinois, and the increasing demand of dance education in the country.

In 1948, she wrote in a letter to the director of the Physical Education Department:

“…Modern dance philosophy holds that every individual born has some creative ability and that it is one of the roles of education to see that all children be guided in the development of creative expression in movement as well as in tone, color, or words. The purpose is the growth of the individual emotionally and mentally, as well as physically. Modern dance is in education not for the sake of dance, but for the sake of people… This philosophy fits perfectly into the ideals of our society” 

University Archives, Series 12/13/20, box 3
Margaret Erlanger Papers

Through intense work in developing proposals for a dance curriculum, gaining support from colleagues, and convincing administrators of the value of the field, in 1949–only one year after Erlanger’s arrival on campus–she created a curriculum for a specialization in dance within the B.S. degree program for Physical Education. From there, the path of academic education in dance at Illinois began, creating a M.A. in 1959 and a B.A. in 1962.

The vibrant environment of the Dance Division drew such dance legends as José Limon and Agnes de Mille, who performed on campus as early as 1953 and 1954 respectively. The Dance Division also invited the internationally influential artist Ann Harplin to direct a piece with the Division’s group Orchesis (1957).

Notably, Illinois became the first school with a Dancer-in-residence permanent position in 1959. The first dancer holding this position was no other than Merce Cunningham. Cunningham taught on campus, created pieces for dance students and for himself, which were showed on campus in a concert at the end of his residency. Cunningham and company returned to Illinois in several occasions to teach and show work, which included several collaborations with  contemporary music legend John Cage. A highlight of these collaborations was the 1967 concert for the University festival “Matrix for the Arts,” which was part of the University’s Centennial celebration. For that concert, Cage staged a “Happening” at the Stock Pavilion, at a time when “Happenings” as contemporary art forms had appeared only about ten years before. During the 1950s and 60s several other dance legends visited Illinois as dancers in residence, including Katherine Litz, Paul Taylor, Anna Sokolow, Alwin Nikolais, Steve Paxton and Katharine Dunham.

 

Samples from material from Margaret Eralnger Papers, Series 12/13/20

 

The opportunity of having professional companies teaching and creating work on campus, made of Dance at Illinois a pioneer in dance education, and made of that Department a unique environment for artistic experimentation.  It attracted such world-renown dancers as Beverly Blossom and Joan Skinner, who eventually became dance faculty members. Skinner obtained her Master’s from Illinois (1964) and while teaching at the University, developed the “Skinner release technique” which transformed the modern dance education and put somatic education at the forefront of dance education. This environment made of Illinois a center for the evolution of modern and contemporary dance, as well as the “somatic meca” that it is today as noted Nancy Wozny in 2012 for “Dance Magazine.” Three dancers have received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from the University: Merce Cunningham, Alwin Nikolais, and Katherine Durham.

Program of Joann Skinner’s 1963 dance concert for obtaining her MA fro Illinois.
M. Erlanger Papers (12/13/20), Scrapbook 14.

Through the movement initiated by Professor Erlanger, which was strengthened by the dancers, choreographers, and educators that became part of this process, Dance at Illinois made dance a language of research, innovation, and artistic excellence.

This post is a complement of the exhibit “Dance at Illinois. Milestones and contributions” installed at the Marshall Gallery from the Main Library between May 2nd and through June 30th, 2017. For more information about this topic, you can visit the University Archives, and browse the series: Margaret Erlanger’s papers (Series 12/13/20)Dance Department Records (12/13/1)Dance Programs (RS 12/13/805), and Archives Exhibits File (Series 35/3/54).

Heinz von Foerster and the Biological Computer Laboratory: A Cybernetics Odyssey

Heinz von Foerster exits the Biological Computer Laboratory office in the Electrical Engineering Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, found in record series 39/1/11, box 94.
Heinz von Foerster exits the Biological Computer Laboratory office in the Electrical Engineering Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, found in record series 39/1/11, box 94.

What do the study of the computational principles in living organisms, the end of the world, and a counterculture student-produced guide to the university all have in common? These subjects are all documented in the personal papers of electrical engineering professor Heinz von Foerster (1911-2002), whose work and laboratory at the University of Illinois transformed a generation of scientists, engineers, and humanists and the interdisciplinary approaches they employed to answer questions about behavior. “Heinz von Foerster and the Biological Computer Laboratory: A Cybernetics Odyssey”–a new exhibit in the University Archives, room 146–contains selections from the Heinz von Foerster Papers, the Biological Computer Laboratory Publications, and the Biological Computer Laboratory Contract and Conference File, which highlight the genesis and evolution of the Biological Computer Laboratory (BCL) as well as von Foerster’s cybernetics research and role as an educator. Continue reading “Heinz von Foerster and the Biological Computer Laboratory: A Cybernetics Odyssey”

Found in the Archives: The Watson Lewis Papers

Watson Lewis
Watson Lewis

The University Archives has a new online exhibit featuring the papers of Watson F. Lewis, who signed up to be an international secretary for the YMCA at the end of World War I. The papers were donated by Marjorie L. Lewis, Watson Lewis’s daughter, who earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University. These papers include letters from Lewis to his wife describing his travels and work in Russia and China between 1918 and 1921, as well as souvenirs from his travels, books, YMCA dispatches, and many photographs.

The new exhibit introduces this collection, particularly the letters, which are a rare example of a first-person account in English about this area of the world in the early 20th century.

Enter the exhibit.

 

ARLIS/NA and VRA: Working Together to Visualize the Future

1As the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) and the Visual Resources Association (VRA) begin their third-ever joint conference, we look back at the 12th Summer Educational Institute for Visual Resources and Image Management (SEI), co-sponsored by ARLIS/NA and the VRA Foundation, which took place June 9-12, 2015, on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. It provided the opportunity to highlight some of the holdings of the ARLIS/NA Archives, which are held by the University of Illinois Archives.

Missed the live exhibit?  See it online here!

Enter the exhibit.

 

National Accessibility Pioneers: Timothy Nugent and the Division of Rehabilitation Education Services

Did you know that the rate of graduation of students with disabilities registered in DRES is between 87% and 91%? That is higher than the average graduation rate on campus, which has been around 85% and 88%! Also, are you aware that our campus has been ranked #1 for several years as the most accessible campus for students with disabilities? Did you know that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was the very first institution to provide full access to all university services, curricula and facilities? One more question. Have you heard of the NWBA (National Wheelchair Basketball Association)?

You are probably guessing what this is all about. Dr. Timothy Nugent, first director of the University of Illinois’ Disability Resources & Educational Services (DRES), and pioneer for disability advocacy and equity, left a legacy that continues to shape the development of accessibility design and equity policies for individuals with disabilities.

Among other important contributions, Nugent pioneered research on architectural barriers, accessibility standards, transportation, and recreation for individuals with disabilities. Nugent was involved in supporting the activities and the administration of DRES and the fraternity Delta Sigma Omicron, a rehabilitation service fraternity whose members originally were students with disabilities on the University of Illinois campus. In addition to this work, he also founded the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (1948), collaborated closely with organizations as American National Standards Institute (1959-92) and was pioneer in developing accessibility-friendly public transportation.

At the University Archives, you will find 21 Record Series related with the history and development of the DRES center, which include: Timothy J. Nugent Papers, 1939-2007 (Series 16/6/20); the DRES Subject file, Photographic File and Scrapbooks; the Fraternity Delta Sigma Omicron records; and several records related to the Wheel Chair Basketball team and Wheelchair Athletics. Materials in these collections consist of correspondence, photographs, booklets, video recordings, audio recordings, and committee minutes. Some materials include contents accessible on-line. See here all disability-related Record Series available at the Archives.

To honor Timothy Nugent, who recently passed away on Wednesday, November 11 2015, the University Archives is sharing an exhibit highlighting some of DRES’ main achievements. Enter the exhibit here.

 

Design Buildings to Permit their use by the Physically Handicapped. Fall 1960. Found in Series 16/6/1, Box 4
Design Buildings to Permit their use by the Physically Handicapped. Fall 1960. Found in Series 16/6/1, Box 4

Champaign County On Film

Champaign County On Film, the second event in the Town & Gown Speaker Series, will be held in the Lewis Auditorium at Urbana Free Library, Wednesday, October 15, at 7pm. The Champaign County Historical Archives and the Student Life & Culture Archives will present an evening devoted to the changes of Champaign County from the 1920s through the twenty-first century as captured by the film lens. Continue reading “Champaign County On Film”

School of Military Aeronautics

The last of four posts written for “WWI and Champaign County” of the Town & Gown Speaker Series, a collaboration between the Student Life & Culture Archives and the Champaign County Historical Archives.

Research for this post contributed by Maggie Cornelius.

Besides ROTC and SATC, the Department of War instituted another military training program at the University of Illinois during World War I. The School of Military Aeronautics (SMA) was not a permanent addition to the University, but its activities preoccupied the campus during the latter years of the Great War.

School of Military Aeronautics instructors, fall 1917. In March 1917, the Daily Illini reported on this development: “The aviation section of the military department of the United States has become active during the present crisis and is desirous of interested students at all the universities in aviation.”[1] To meet the nation’s need for pilots in time of war, the federal government commissioned six U.S. universities to open aviation schools. Illinois was the first American university to offer its facilities and resources to the government to aid the war effort.[2] Continue reading “School of Military Aeronautics”

Student Military Training and the Great War

The third of four posts written for “WWI and Champaign County” of the Town & Gown Speaker Series, a collaboration between the Student Life & Culture Archives and the Champaign County Historical Archives.

Research for this post contributed by Maggie Cornelius.

America’s entry into World War I required the mobilization of the country’s brightest minds and ablest bodies for military training and leadership. The War Department looked to American universities to recruit capable men for its military departments. These recruitment efforts prompted the establishment of two prominent military organizations at the University of Illinois, both of which served as the foundation for the current Illini Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program. Cadet George Wellington Rider, 1915

Prior to ROTC, the 1862 Morrill Act obligated land-grant universities to instruct its male students in “military tactics.”[1] Anticipating the American entrance into the war, the National Defense Act of 1916 established the ROTC as part of its reorganization of the American military. Illinois created its ROTC chapter in 1917 and fundamentally changed how the University fulfilled its Morrill Act obligation.  ROTC’s primary purpose was to train and enroll men into the Reserved Officers’ Corps who were qualified to be “captains or lieutenants of volunteer organizations in times of war.”[2] In its early days, ROTC was divided into seven units: medical corps, signal corps, engineers, cavalry, field artillery, coast artillery, and infantry.[3] Continue reading “Student Military Training and the Great War”

The Women Behind the Men Behind the Guns

The second of four posts written for “WWI and Champaign County” of the Town & Gown Speaker Series, a collaboration between the Student Life & Culture Archives and the Champaign County Historical Archives.

Research for this post contributed by Maggie Cornelius.

The United States government asked Americans to knit socks, sweaters, and other garments for soldiers during World War I. Most of this knitting was produced by volunteers working under the auspices of the American Red Cross. Illini women, like many women during the war, devoted their free time and money to contribute necessities and luxuries to the war effort. The former provided subsistence and the latter provided morale. Continue reading “The Women Behind the Men Behind the Guns”

Remembering Dora-Mittelbau

This year marks the 70th Anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Normandy. Memorial services for the war’s causalities are taking place around the world. These services commemorate the dead and also attest to the scope and ferocity of the Second World War. Those who liberated concentration camps felt it was of utmost importance to ensure that this history was kept alive.

In the early morning of April 11th 1945, the Third Armored Division, specifically Task Force Welborn from the north and Task Force Loveday from the south, led the capture of what they thought was a prisoner-of-war camp.[1] After a few light skirmishes the nearby town of Nordhausen (in Northern-Central Germany) was secured. Once Nordhausen was seized 3AD units investigated rumors of a prisoner camp on the outskirts of the town. First person accounts note the bewilderment and nausea that the soldiers experienced upon finding the concentration camp. James D. Mathews recounted his own experiences: Continue reading “Remembering Dora-Mittelbau”