The Last Word
By Ken Butler
Executive Assistant to the President

Dance Flourishes at Muhlenberg

When Karen Dearborn came to Muhlenberg College in 1993, she had no idea how much she would accomplish in her first decade as head of the dance program. That semester, there were only three dance courses offered to about 35 students. Now the program boasts 40 majors and minors and a staggering 325 students in technique classes each semester; these are numbers even she might have laughed at in disbelief when she arrived in the summer of 1993. The diligence and care with which she and her colleagues have grown the dance program at Muhlenberg have begun to bear remarkable fruit.

For one proof of this flowering, consider the incredible success of the dance program in the national dance arena. For three consecutive years the American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA) has honored Muhlenberg College dancers. ACDFA is the only national organization dedicated to fostering artistic excellence in dance choreography and performance in higher education.

Meeting in regional festivals across the nation, the centerpiece of each Festival is a series of adjudicated concerts: each participating college or university may send one or two dance works for critique by nationally recognized dance professionals. The adjudication is considered ‘blind’ because the adjudicators are only told the name of the dance and the composer, if music is used. Adjudicators do not know what institution is presenting the dance, or even if the choreographer is a student or a professional. Forty to 50 works are seen at each festival, and of those works a dozen are chosen, based on excellence in choreography and performance, for the Gala Concert on the Saturday evening of the festival. On alternate years, ACDFA holds a National Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. When the National Festival is held, a select few works deemed the best from each region’s festival are chosen to participate in the National Gala Concert.

Muhlenberg’s department of theatre and dance hosted the Northeast Regional Festival of the ACDFA in 2002. More than 500 dancers and choreographers from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Ohio gathered in Allentown for five days of classes, workshops and performances. We were pleased to learn that “Black Raspberry,” a work co-choreographed by Assistant Professor Jennifer Kayle and guest artist Megan Bonneau McCool, was chosen for presentation on the Regional Gala concert, but thrilled to find out the next day that “Black Raspberry” would represent Muhlenberg College and the Northeast Region at the National Festival.

“Rubbish Overrunneth”, photo by Beth Danton ’00

For the 2003 Regional Festival, held at the University of Buffalo, “Rubbish Overrunneth,” a work choreographed by Julie Danton ’03, was also selected for the Regional Gala Concert, marking the first time that a Muhlenberg College student work was thus honored. Unfortunately, as there was no National Festival that year, Julie’s piece did not have the opportunity for adjudication at the national level. Having works from one school appear on Gala concerts in consecutive festivals is prestigious enough. However, in March Muhlenberg College traveled to Slippery Rock University for the 2004 Northeast Regional Festival and, once again, a Muhlenberg student choreographer was honored. Senior Mary McLaughlin’s work, “Business or Pleasure,” was selected for the Regional Gala Concert and then was invited to perform at the National Festival at the Kennedy Center on June 2.

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