Biographical / Historical
At Swarthmore classes in dance technique have been offered as part of the physical education curriculum for men and women since the 1940s. 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 Swarthmore Folk Festival traces its roots to 1940, when Alice Gates of the Women’s Physical Education Department (who was an excellent square and folk dancer) organized the first "barn dance" at the College. Soon after, a folk dance club, known at the time as the Co-Ed Dance Club, was formed. By participating in a weekly class to learn how to lead and teach square and folk dances, students could earn PE credit. As a class project, students decided to create and run an intercollegiate folk festival, the first Swarthmore Folk Festival, held in 1945. The festival grew, incorporating performances by renouned musicians including Leadbelly (1946), Woody Guthrie (1949), and Pete Seeger (1953). By 1955, there were 2,725 attendees. The administration reacted negatively to the tumult of all those visitors, and over the next few years, put limitations on the festival or banned it altogether. After a brief resurgence in the 1960s, the folk festival was folded into the Swarthmore Rock Festival.
In 1967, The Critique of a College, a comprehensive analysis of the direction of Swarthmore College written 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. By 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.
In 1973 Physical Education Visiting Committee's recommended that dance study be moved into the area of performing arts. In 1977 Pat Wityk Boyer was named the first Director of Dance, and the program was moved to the Department of Music. While physical education credit was still awarded for participation in technique classes, courses for academic credit were also added to the curriculum. During the years between 1977 and 1985, in answer to increasing enrollments, a third part-time faculty position was added. Most student involvement came through technique courses that satisfied the college-wide physical education requirement.
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. 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.
Ralph Lee Smith, "If I Had a Song..." Swarthmore College Bulletin XCIV:4 (March 1997), http://bulletin.swarthmore.edu/bulletin-issue-archive/wp-content/archived_issues_pdf/Bulletin_1997_03.pdf
Swarthmore College Dance Program website/history: http://www.swarthmore.edu/dance-program/dance-program-history