1940's - 1985
At Swarthmore classes in dance technique have been offered as part of the physical education curriculum for men and women since the 1940's. In those early years classes in ballroom, folk, modern, and square dance were available. In addition to classes, the college has continuously hosted performance groups in a wide variety of dance styles and has demonstrated a significant commitment to sponsoring performances and residencies by eminent professionals under the auspices of the Cooper Foundation.
The Critique of a College, a comprehensive analysis of the direction of Swarthmore College written in 1967 by appointed committees comprised of members of the college community, suggested that a professional dancer be hired and given faculty status in the Music Department or "work as an associate of the drama instructor." In 1968 Pat Boyer joined the Physical Education Department as a part-time faculty member in dance. In 1970 her position was reassigned as full-time Assistant Professor tenure track. Between then and 1975 two additional part-time dance faculty positions with year-to-year appointments were added to the staff and master classes with professionals became an integral part of the program.
The following statement regarding dance is abstracted from the Physical Education Visiting Committee's report of 1973. It suggests a clear course of action that follows the spirit of the 1967 report.
The committee makes a strong recommendation that dance be moved into the area of the performing arts and be granted appropriate academic credit. Dance is a field of study, a discipline, not simply a limited recreational activity and cannot be equated with seasonal sports. When taught properly it is a performing art and as such merits equal status with the other arts.... The arts have traditionally been nourished in liberal arts colleges. It is hard to understand why dance at Swarthmore has been relegated to some lower status, and denied usual liberal arts support. It is for these reasons that the committee recommends that immediate consideration be given to placement of dance study under the auspices of the Music Department.
In 1977 Pat Boyer was named the first Director of Dance and the program was moved to the Department of Music. This move signaled an important change in the potential for development of a more comprehensive dance program.
While physical education credit was still awarded for participation in technique classes, courses for academic credit were also added to the curriculum (the first of these was Twentieth Century Dance History, added in 1977). During the years between 1977 and 1985, in answer to increasing enrollments, a third part-time faculty position was added. Short and long-term residencies with numerous guest artists also assisted in strengthening the program's breadth and depth. Student interest and participation in all aspects of the program steadily grew; the program remained one that was dominantly focused on technique and composition and emphasized modern dance technique. Most student involvement came through technique courses that satisfied the college-wide physical education requirement.
1985 - Present
In 1985 Sharon Friedler was selected as Swarthmore's second Director of Dance. Since then over thirty-five new course offerings have been introduced in technique, composition, history, theory, and dance repertory. These courses have been developed to reflect a world dance focus; as a group they offer opportunities to investigate dance from a variety of worldviews. In 1988 the official department name was changed to the Department of Music and Dance.
Beginning in the early 1990's a small but steady stream of students incorporated dance into the work of majors through thesis and concert project work (in such disciplines as English Literature, History, and Sociology-Anthropology). Dance is also one of the cognates students can include for the major in Linguistics. In 1993 the first student graduated with a major in which dance was specifically named (Brian Kloppenberg was the student. His major was Theories of Performance and Culture/Dance). A special major in dance and a second discipline has been listed in the catalogue since 1993. During the mid-1990's between two and four students a year elected to pursue such a special major. They paired dance with art, biology, English literature, political science, sociology/anthropology, and Spanish. An honors major or minor in dance has been listed in the catalogue since 1995 as available to students graduating in 1997 and beyond. In 1999, by vote of the full faculty of Swarthmore College, dance became available as a major and minor in both the course and honors programs. Since that time, an increasing number of students have chosen to pursue a variety of paths in the program, including study abroad. Alumni have been quite successful in gaining awards for further study through Fulbright and Watson Fellowships, as well as scholarships and fellowships to graduate programs in the United States and abroad.
Each year approximately 250 students per semester enroll in technique classes (some for physical education credit, some for academic credit, and some as auditors) and approximately 60 pursue work in composition, history, repertory and theory for academic credit. The dance program serves a diverse group of students with women and minorities strongly represented.