Stepping Out

Chapter Three: Getting the UW Dance Program in Step

Throughout her sojourn in Massachusetts, Wiley had come back to the Northwest at every opportunity—teaching summer classes and choreographing plays for local theaters. Then, in 1987, she was offered the chance to become the head of what was then the UW Division of Dance, housed in her alma mater, the School of Drama.

No sooner had she arrived to take the position than Wiley began working on a new program to cross yet another boundary—that between professional dance and the academy. She had noticed during her years in academia that professional dancers who came to the university often had difficulty teaching, while academics who had never danced professionally didn't bring the best work to the studio. Her idea was to create a graduate level program for retiring professional dancers (typically in their early to mid-30s), enabling them to teach at the college level.

Stepping Out pull quote

The College of Arts and Sciences was supportive, so Wiley doggedly went about jumping through the hoops to make the program a reality. The new M.F.A. in Dance program enrolled its first class in the fall of 1990. Students study another field to complement dance (many choose the anatomy route that Wiley took) and teach dance while also performing in the Chamber Dance Company. And part of that company's repertoire is the historical classics of modern dance that Wiley felt so cheated not to have seen as a young dancer.

"What could be better than having these important dances performed by ripened professionals for our community?" she asks.

The dancers, many of whom come from dance companies where they have performed basically the same repertoire for a number of years, appreciate the opportunity. As Simpson says, "The classic dances illuminate the contemporary ones. Working on them makes my approach to contemporary work much clearer."

A few years after her arrival, dance became a free-standing unit, and Wiley sought out connections with her colleagues in the other arts schools. When Gates was named director of drama in 1995, Wiley invited her and Music School Director Robin McCabe, '71, to lunch. It was at that lunch that the three hatched plans for a joint musical theater production by their three schools, to be done every other year. They've produced two such musicals since then.

The no-formal-agenda lunches became a monthly occurrence, later including School of Art Director Chris Ozubko. The lively group often batted around ideas for the arts, so they were primed for the day when President McCormick encouraged them to "think big."

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