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Swarthmore College Dance Program records

Identifier: SFHL-RG6-J02

Scope and Contents

This collection is organized into two series: "Series I: Physical Education Department" contains materials dating from the period when dance classes and clubs were administratively situated under the Physical Education Department, and "Series II: Dance Program" contains materials dating after dance become an academic program in the Performing Arts Department (and later the Department of Music and Dance).

Series I: Physical Education Department contains a fair quantity of material relating to Folk Dance (known as the Co-Ed Dance Club or the Folk Dance Club) and the Folk Festival, including programs, newspaper clippings, and committee/performer lists. There are also press releases and some materials from the Modern Dance Club.

Series II: Dance Program contains completed forms of a survey sent in 1989 to alumni of the program in dance, a 1992 evaluation of the dance libraries at Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore Colleges, and materials collected for the memorial service for Pat Boyer, the first Director of Dance.


  • Creation: 1946-2002


Limitations on Accessing the Collection

Collection is open for research.

Copyright and Rights Information

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in to the Director. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Friends Historical Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by reader.

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),

Swarthmore College Dance Program website/history:


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At Swarthmore classes in dance technique have been offered as part of the physical education curriculum for men and women since the 1940s. The study of dance at Swarthmore College became part of the performing arts program in the late 1970s and was established as a major and minor in course and Honors in 1999. The collection contains materials relating to the the Swarthmore Folk Festival and other folk dance activities at Swarthmore (known as the "Co-Ed Dance Club"), as well as documents dating from after Dance was established as an academic program at Swarthmore, including materials collected for tributes to Pat Boyer, the first Director of Dance.

Physical Location

For current information on the location of materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Related Materials

RG6/A College Publications: Events and announcements.

RG6/I-001 Physical Education and Athletics Department records.

Swarthmore College Library catalog (Tripod) for VHS and DVDs in Library collection.

Archives of Department of Music and Dance at Underhill Music and Dance Library,

Swarthmore College Dance Program records, 1946-2002
FHL staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting reproductions from Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College Library

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