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Olivia Sabee

Associate Professor of Dance

Music & Dance


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

Olivia Sabee is a scholar of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French and Italian dance and literature. She is particularly interested in how 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, Theories of 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 the three categories of classes the Dance Program offers, including dance studies, choreography, and studio practice. Committed to promoting interdisciplinary study, she is also a member of the Committees on Comparative Literature and Interpretation Theory, and prior to joining the Swarthmore faculty,  during her graduate studies, she taught courses in French language and literature at Johns Hopkins University.

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); supported by Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and Dance Metro DC; and commissioned by the National Gallery of Art.

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 a pensionnaire étranger at the École normale supérieure in Paris, a visiting student at Oxford University, and attended Bryn Mawr College's Institut d'études françaises d'Avignon. 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. She currently serves as Secretary of the Dance Studies Association and chair of the Dancing the Long Nineteenth Century working group.

Personal Website

Selected Articles/Chapters

"Charles LePicq and the Neapolitan Ballet d'Action." In Il virtuoso grottesco. Gennaro Magri Napoletano, ed. Arianna Beatrice Fabbricatore. Rome: Aracne, 2020, pp. 109-18.

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. 

Staging at Swarthmore

Excerpts from Giselle, Fall 2018 Pointe & Partnering Class accompanied by the Swarthmore Lab Orchestra