History

A Note from the Founder: Excerpt from Reflections on 40 Years of Dance at Princeton by Ze’eva Cohen, April, 2010

Dance officially came to Princeton in 1969, when the University opened its gates to undergraduate women. Dance was one of the “special needs” anticipated by the administration for the incoming women, along with shorter beds, kitchen facilities, and secure locks on dormitory doors.

What sort of dance? Princeton decided to take a comprehensive approach, introducing students to the creative and theoretical aspects of modern dance, as well as the physical and mental discipline of dance technique and performance. I was the first teacher, leading the dance program and its development for the next 40 years.

Student response was enthusiastic, and 50 of the 60 in my first class who enrolled were men. Clearly, both female and male students had a hunger for physical expression in an artistic context and a desire to develop self-awareness through movement. The first annual out-of-doors dance demonstration, “To Dance is to Live, #1,” took place on Poe Field one glorious Sunday in April, 1970. A group of long-haired, bare-chested, body-painted men and a few women performed to the accompaniment of conga drums and a rock ‘n roll band before a large crowd. They presented a twenty-minute assemblage of work prepared in class throughout the year—a bold, proud performance that gave expression to their youthful exuberance and their conflicts, particularly their feelings of anger and fear about the Vietnam War.

Princeton Dances: A Photographic Memoir, 1969 – 2009

Since that modest beginning, dance at Princeton has flourished, with many milestones along the way. In 1975, dance became part of the academic Program in Theater and Dance. In 1985, the opening of Richardson Auditorium in a refurbished Alexander Hall gave us a venue where dance could begin to be presented in a manner approaching professional standards. In 1986, the creation of the Patricia and Ward Hagan ’48 Dance Studio at 185 Nassau Street provided a fully equipped dance studio, as well as a facility for informal showings by students, faculty and guest artists. In 2003, the opening of the Roger S. Berlind Theatre made it possible for student dancers to present collaborations, such as Prokofiev’s “Pas d’Acier” and Nijinsky’s “L’Après-midi d’un faune,” that have brought national attention to Princeton.

In fall 2009, after a long and creative partnership with theater, dance became an autonomous program, with its own voice and its own director. Courses now range from “Introduction to Movement and Dance” to “Contemporary” and “World” Dance, as well as “Dance History and Criticism”.  There are also upper-level classes in which students learn works by well-known choreographers such as Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp, courses in performance workshops, visits by guest choreographers, and a daily ballet class.

As I leave Princeton after 40 years, I am gratified to see dance thriving both in the curriculum and in the 16 different student dance companies that span a diverse cultural spectrum. I am profoundly grateful to President Tilghman, to Roger S. Berlind ’52, and to Peter B. Lewis ’55 for their steadfast and generous support.

I am thankful to Paul Muldoon for his committed and courageous leadership as the first chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts, and to my former colleague, Carol Rigolot, Executive Director of the Humanities Council, who was a close advisor for three decades, and to Michael Cadden, now Director of the Program in Theater but formerly the Director of the Program in Theater and Dance, with whom I worked very closely for 15 years. I am also deeply indebted to the talented and dedicated dance faculty who helped foster our dreams throughout the years. I wish Susan Marshall, our first Director of Dance, success and fulfillment as she continues to build the Program in Dance at Princeton.