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Theatre and Dance Department records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: RG0084

Collection Scope and Content

Materials in this collection include brochures, programs, posters, flyers, articles, photographs, photographic negatives, contact sheets, correspondence, syllabi, and video tapes. They range in date from 1936 to 2011, and were transferred to the University Archives by the Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance.


  • 1936-2011


Restrictions on Access

Series 1 is closed to research for 50 years from date of record creation.

Restrictions on Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Historical or Biographical Note

The Theatre and Dance Department at The George Washington University was formed in 1987.

Dance began as part of the Physical Education Department in 1926 at the George Washington University, and it was part of the Human Kinetics and Leisure Studies Department before it joined to form the Theater and Dance Department. Since 1926, freshmen and sophomore women had the option of selecting dance as their winter sports activity. The types of dancing offered included natural dancing, character dancing and clog/folk dancing. “Natural dancing” was described in the 1928 Bulletin as “Dancing based on fundamental body movements: skipping, leaping, running for the purpose of developing better poise, greater freedom and body control.” In 1928, Physical Education majors also had the option of taking a class entitled “Methods of Teaching Dance.”

Orchesis, a student group for advanced dancers, was founded in the early 1930s under the direction of dance instructors such as Dorothea Lensch and Ruth Aubuck Foster. The 1933 Cherry Tree states, “Although the designation of dancing as a sport may be questionable, it is included in the Physical Education curriculum and has grown steadily in popularity among G.W. sportswomen.” During the early 1930s, dance classes were held at the YWCA four days a week to help young women with the development of “grace and rhythm.” Each winter program was concluded with a performance in March that included Orchesis and members from all of the dancing classes. During this time, Rhythmic Dance was the most popular form, and it was, “based on free movement of the body,” On February 25, 1933, Orchesis participated in the first Symposium of the Dance at Pierce Hall with eight area schools including Goucher, Hood and University of Maryland.

In 1938, Elizabeth Burtner joined the Physical Education Department as an instructor in dance and the archery coach. After Burtner’s arrival, the course descriptions for dance were changed to include the title modern dance for the first time. In the 1938-39 Bulletin, dance was described as, “Folk, tap, fundamentals and methods in modern dance, music in relation to dance.” In 1938, Orchesis gave five public dance performances including two student recitals, the annual Symposium of the Dance, and performances for May Day and a June Luncheon. The 1939 Cherry Tree credited Burtner for working to establish dance as a, “major art form on campus,” and it contained pictures of outdoor performances held by the student dance group on the Campus Yard. In 1939, a junior dance group was established by Orchesis and junior members that were eligible for the advanced group were chosen at the end of the season.

By 1942, there were three student dance groups: Junior Orchesis, Orchesis and the Master Group. From this era, there were several GW dancers who went on to successful professional careers. In 1939, GW alumni Jerry Ross, A.B. 1939, began as an accompanist in Orchesis and he then went on to star in the CBS television series “Show of Shows.” Ed Lum, A.B. 1951, and Phyllis Sheppy, A.B. 1949, both joined the Martha Graham Dance Group while Greta Atkin Levart, A.B. 1949, worked with the Jose Limon Company. GW students Helene Ellis, Sherry Parker and Jane Thomson also worked with the Charles Weidman Group. This expansion of dance continued, and the 1955 Cherry Tree describes a vibrant dance community led by Burtner and assisted by Evelyn Loehofer and Tom Pence. The three previous student dance groups were combined under the title Dance Production Groups, but the Master Group retained its distinction as the group for advanced modern dancers. In 1955, the Dance Production Groups sponsored a number of events including Thursday evening square and folk dances in Building J and Friday evening social dances co-sponsored by the student council. In the modern dance program, “Top members of the University’s dance group participated in a master lesson in dance given by Louis Horst at Maryland University,” (1955 Cherry Tree). Dance Production Group members also gave modern dance classes at area high schools and participated in the “Pageant of Peace” on the Ellipse during the winter holiday season. In 1956, the Spring Modern Dance Concert was comprised of pieces choreographed by Elizabeth Burtner, Joan Masterson and the student dancers. Titles ranged from “Modern Fantasy” and “Boulevard of the Abnormal” to “Show Piece” which was accompanied by Leonard Bernstein music and “God’s Trombones” which was an arrangement of a traditional spiritual.

The 1958 winter symposium held on Dance Improvisation and Composition was co-sponsored by University of Maryland and Howard University and it featured Jose Limon dancer Lucas Hoving. The 1959 winter symposium on Dance Technique and Experimental Composition featured Modern Dance legend Merce Cunningham. In 1959, the Spring Modern Dance Concert was so popular that it was included in the Combo, which was, “a ticket to a medley of the most popular events of the school year.” This concert included Doris Humphrey’s Partita V as reconstructed from Labonotation Score and choreography by the graduate students. The Dance Production Groups also participated in the Summer Carnival and the May Day festivities during 1959.

The sixties brought about a new era in dance at GW, and the addition of faculty member Maida Withers in 1966 made a dramatic impact on the department. There was also a department wide interest in dance notation, and there was an article about dance notation written by Elizabeth Burtner in the spring 1967 edition of the George Washington University Magazine. She writes, “The long view toward the future indicates that dance as an art cannot fail to profit by building up a literature of its own for study, for stylistic comparison and deduction, for cultural stability and continuity.” Some of the changes that occurred during the sixties included the addition of summer intensive workshops held every June that featured renowned dance artists and culminated in performances. Some of the artists featured were Rudy Perez, Babara Roan, Yvonne Rainer, Al Huang, Elizabeth Keen, Don Redlich and Cheryl Gates McFadden. In a 1975 Spring Dance Concert program, it is written, “Since the GW Dance Programs began in 1965, nearly seventy men and women have graduated and are actively involved in a broad variety of settings...” This program note refers to changes that took place in 1965 that expanded degree options in dance. At this time, the degree programs in dance available for undergraduates were a B.A. in Education with a major (teaching field) in dance and a B.S. in Physical Education with an emphasis in dance. For graduate students, there was an M.A. in Education with a specialization in dance and an M.A. in Education: Physical Education with an emphasis in dance. In 1973, the Spring Dance Concert included a work choreographed by guest artist Art Bauman entitled “Errands”. This work was first performed at the Dance Theater Workshop in New York City during February of 1966. The 1975 concert series included works by Maida Withers and the Dance Construction Company entitled “Time Dance” and “Yesterday’s Garlands and Yesterday’s Kisses”. Sara Rudner also presented a solo performance and Meredith Monk/ The House performed “Paris” and premiered “Venice/Milan.” During the 1975-1976 semesters, the dance program remained part of the School of Education but became part of a new department named Human Kinetics and Leisure Studies. This change did not dramatically impact the courses that dance students took, and it was still intended to prepare students for a career teaching physical education in elementary and secondary schools. Highlights of the 1979 season included a Falco Technique Dance Workshop with company soloist Shelley Freydont and guest artist Bobbi Baumann. The 1979 Spring Dance Concert featured guest artist works by Beverly Brown, Les Ditson and Norman Walker. During 1979, there was also a dance concert presented by Pat Catterson, who was a three time recipient of Choreography Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Maida Withers presented a workshop for teachers entitled “Creative Dance for Children” as part of the National Endowment for the Arts Artist-In-School Program during the summer of 1979.

During the 1987-1988 semesters, the dance program officially joined the theater department to form the Theater and Dance Department. The dance technique classes offered at this time included Tap, Jazz, Folk, Ballroom, Ballet and Ethnic Styles in addition to an emphasis in Modern Dance. During the nineties, the course work shifted towards modern dance. The graduate program in dance continued until 1994-1995, and the undergraduate program continues to grow and offer performing arts scholarships by audition. The late nineties have continued to be eventful for the GW dance program. Guest artists from 1997-1999 have included Ann Carlson, Claire Porter, Kirstie Simson and Russian modern dancer Sasha Kukin.

Today, the program for Dance Majors emphasizes the development of a technically trained body, the processes involved in the creative activity of making dances, and building a strong theoretical base for understanding movement. The student prepares for a professional career in the multifaceted field of dance as artist, entrepreneur, manager, or dance specialist. In addition, courses in theatrical crafts such as lighting and costuming are required to reinforce the concepts behind presenting dances in the theatrical environment.

The Drama arm of the Department goes back to performances in the early 1900's, and in 1927 a troupe called the Troubadours was organized, which performed musical comedies on campus and around town. They ceased in the 1930's (and later came back in the 1950's as a singing group). In the 1930's and 40's there was a group called Cue and Curtain that did dramatic productions on campus. In 1947 Edward Mangum came to GW, and taught speech and drama until 1950, when he left to become the founder and director of Arena Stage in Washington. He said of drama: "I hope someday it may become for us what it was for the Greeks, not just icing on the cake, but the yeast that makes the bread rise. It should be a vital part of the culture of all Americans." While here his troupes performed such plays as "Agamemnon," "Noah" and "Our American Cousin."

In 1966, courses in drama were added to the Department of Speech to create the Department of Speech and Drama, and this continued until 1983, when the Communication and Theatre Department came into being (see R.G. 9.9). Finally, in 1987 the Theatre and Dance Department was formed. Performances were given in Lisner Auditorium and the Marvin Center Dorothy Betts Theater. Today, students study lighting, costuming, scene design, makeup, scene creation, audition technique, film and television, and stage dialects, among other courses, in preparation for their degrees.

The B.A. degree program of study in Dramatic Literature combines the strengths of both the English and Theatre and Dance Departments, and is designed to give equal consideration to the two key aspects of theatre - the literary text and the production.

The Master of Fine Arts in Classical Acting is a one-year intensive graduate program offered off-campus in collaboration with the Shakespeare Theatre. The program focuses on the specific craft of acting Shakespeare and other classical texts. Training includes voice and speech, movement, combat, as well as dramatic literature and theatre history.

N.B. This history note was written in 2005


16.75 Linear Feet (21 boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection contains the records of the Theatre and Dance Department at George Washington University. The Dance arm of the Department began as part of the Physical Education Department in 1926, and was later part of the Department of Human Kinetics and Leisure Studies from 1974 until 1987, when it joined with the Department of Speech and Drama to form the Theatre and Dance Department. Materials in this collection include brochures, programs, posters, flyers, articles, photographs, photographic negatives, contact sheets, correspondence, syllabi, and video tapes. They range in date from 1936 to 2011, and were transferred to the University Archives by the Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance.

Collection Organization

Organized into fifteen series: four series of Departmental files; Cue and Curtain club; Maida Withers; two series of Posters; Videotapes, Audiotapes, Photographs, and Administrative files of Maida Withers, Professor of Dance, University Players and Promotions Office records, Productions.

Physical Location

Some materials are stored off-site, and will require additional retrieval time. Please contact the Special Collections Research Center for more information.

Acquisition Information

Materials acquired through transfer from Theater and Dance Department. Additional accession in April 2018 (Acc 2018.004).

Guide to the Theatre and Dance Department records, 1937-2011
University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

2130 H Street NW
Washington 20052 United States of America