The discipline of dance was formally established at William and Mary in 1941 by Professor Grace Felker through the Modern Dance Club and its subset of advanced students known as Orchesis. Housed in the Women's Physical Education Department, students studied Modern technique and Dance Composition, and they prepared an annual concert of student choreography which was eventually titled An Evening of Dance. Over the years, a number of company directors have filled the shoes of Professor Felker including Helen Black, Thelma Dodson, Blanche Duffy, Sophia Saunders, Lorna Burdsall, Catherine Edmundson, Gladys Warren and Rona Sande, and each spring students have been able to present their original choreography in well-received public performances. In 1963 Professor Carol Sherman became director of the dance program followed by Shirley Roby in 1964. In 1965 Professors Sherman and Roby were both members of the faculty, and they co-directed the dance program for the next 35 years.
In 1968, the course offerings in Dance were expanded; DANCEVENT, a fall concert of faculty work, was initiated in 1977; and as the Dance Program continued to grow, a third full-time dance position was added in 1979. The Dance Minor was established in 1982. By 1998, participation in the minor had grown such that it became possible to produce the first Dance Minors Concert in addition to the Orchesis spring concert. In 1999 the Dance Program moved to the Department of Theatre, Speech, and Dance; and in 2000, Professors Roby and Sherman retired.
The Dance Program is continuing to flourish under the direction of current faculty. Some of our most recent activities include students performing faculty work through Gravity Optional Dance Company, American College Dance Festival, International Association of Blacks in Dance, Yes-Virginia Dance Festival, Colonial Williamsburg, and the Jamestown 2007 Commemoration. The Roby-Sherman Dance Scholarship was awarded for the first time in 2005, a new Physical Theatre course was developed in collaboration with Theatre faculty, and the annual W&M Summer Dance Intensive was offered for the first time in 2007.
The next major event for the Dance Program will be a new arts complex, which is in the initial planning phase at the College. When this project reaches fruition, the Dance, Theatre, Music, and Fine Art faculty will be in one arts quarter, which will encourage more networking and collaboration among faculty and student artists at the College.