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Olivia Sabee

Assistant Professor of Dance

On Leave 2019-20

Music & Dance


  2. Phone: (610) 328-8237
  3. LPAC 006

Situated at the intersections of literature, history, and dance, Olivia Sabee's work examines the ways in which eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French ballet engages with questions about language and society. She is also particularly interested in the ways in which the publishing industry shaped the dissemination and reception of early modern dance texts, and subsequently early modern dance theory, the subject of her first book manuscript, Ballet in the Age of the EncyclopédieShe has won research fellowships including a Mellon-Council for European Studies Dissertation Completion Fellowship, and most recently, a NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts Resident Fellowship.

Her teaching spans across all the categories of classes the Dance Program offers and her favorite classes to teach are Carnival Culture: Dance, Music and Drama in Early Modern Europe, Dance in Europe and North America: 19th and 20th Centuries, and ballet technique classes of all levels (especially Ballet 1). 

A choreographer as well as a scholar, she regularly creates new work for Agora Dance, a Washington, DC-based contemporary dance company she co-founded with Catherine Roth and Niko Sommaripa in 2015 after serving for two years as Associate Director of MOVEIUS Contemporary Ballet. Her choreography has been presented at venues including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Dance Place, Sidney Harman Hall, UChicago’s Logan Center for the Arts, the Arellano Theater at Johns Hopkins University, and Montgomery College (MD) and supported by Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and Dance Metro DC.

Before coming to Swarthmore, she earned a high school diploma in Ballet from North Carolina School of the Arts, a B.A. in French from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in French from Johns Hopkins University. During her graduate studies she was also a pensionnaire étranger at the École normale supérieure in Paris. Early dance training came from Pacific Northwest Ballet School, Cornish College Preparatory Dance Program, and ARC School of Ballet in Seattle. Between 2008 and 2015, she taught ballet in a number of non-academic settings, including the American Dance Institute (MD), CityDance (DC), the Joffrey Academy of Dance, and Lou Conte Dance Studio, as well as movement for opera singers at the Peabody Institute.

Selected Articles

Encyclopedic Definitions: Tracing Ballet from the Encyclopédie to the Gazzetta Urbana Veneta.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 52, no. 3 (2019), pp. 319-35.

Théophile Gautier’s Ballet d’Action: Rewriting Dance History through Criticism.” Dance Chronicle 39, no. 2 (2016), pp. 153-73. 

Dancing the Social Contract: The White Divertissement after the French Revolution.” Dance Chronicle 38, no. 1 (2015), pp. 3-26. 

Omission and Inspiration in Noverre’s Lettres sur la danse.” Romance Studies 31, no. 3-4 (2013), pp. 224-37.