Mellon Foundation provides grant for new dance studies program

Maisha Rahman

The Mellon Foundation has provided a grant to Lawrence University establishing a two-year dance professorship and program, as a reward for President Jill Beck’s seven years of service to the university. Visiting Professor in Dance Rebecca Salzer has received degrees from Yale University and the University of California at San Diego.

The Mellon Foundation, established by the wealth left by Andrew W. Mellon, has five core areas of interest, including support of performing arts. Beck was invited to propose funding for something of particular interest to her, which she decided was dance.

“I am interested in offering an opportunity to Lawrentians to develop their imaginations. As we look forward to life, it is very important [to have a strong] intellectual base as we develop,” said Beck.

“But if all we do is memorize things, then we can’t change things for the future to make them more interesting and more insightful. And I would think a course like improvisation, one of the many courses Rebecca is interested in introducing to Lawrentians, would help them find many new solutions to a single problem.”

“[Salzer] is perfect for Lawrence University,” added Beck. “She has a rich background in liberal arts studies from Yale. Rebecca isn’t somebody who practices dance and choreography without understanding its history, and how social movements and different cultures of the world can affect the kinds of movements.”

Senior theater and music major Kyle Brauer added, “Rebecca Salzer is one of the most down-to-earth people, and is most organic choreographically. She is incredibly knowledgeable about all types of dance… and she teaches in such a way that it is very easy to learn.”

This term, Salzer is teaching a contemporary technique class and a class on choreography. Spring Term, she will teach a ballet technique class and a class on forms of choreography. Salzer’s studio classes are a combination of dancing, reading, video viewing, discussions and writing, though mostly they concentrate on dancing.

Brauer said of Salzer’s studio class: “It was challenging and refreshing, we had to control and move our bodies like we never did before. It was a completely new experience.”

Salzer said, “I like being here at Lawrence, where there is such a strong liberal arts emphasis… I have the opportunity to really integrate dance into the existing liberal arts here, and that is the way that I feel dance should be taught and experienced.”

“Studying dance teaches you different ways to think. You learn different tools of problem solving and drawing connections between things when you put yourself into the physical technique.”

In addition, Salzer claimed, “Studying dance history is really very valuable in terms of liberal arts education as a whole because dance is one of the major art forms of the whole world, and it has affected history, is affected by history and is a window to history.”

Salzer welcomes everyone in her studio classes, even if they are not trained dancers. Lawrentians are encouraged by Beck and Salzer to enjoy and make most of this new opportunity provided for them.