History

dance

During the early years of The University of Montana, dance classes were taught by instructors of “physical culture.”  Students demonstrated their dance skills at events known as May Fetes, initially Maypole celebrations which, by the 1920’s developed into lavish outdoor pageants with themes such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Dance remained associated primarily with physical education at UM, as was customary at that time throughout the nation.

The Depression and World War II diverted funds from “inessentials” such as theatre and dance, but, after the war, college dance programs enjoyed a renaissance.  In the 1940s the old Men’s Gym became the Women’s Gym and McGill Hall became home to the Women’s Center.  The Fine Arts Department was established in 1947 and dance continued in a variety of forms.  Dance was taught in what would later become the Department of Physical Therapy; a water ballet team was created in the late 1940s, and by the 1950s, the Fine Arts Department included a theatre of ballet.

During the 1960s, the university and both Missoula high schools sponsored chapters of Orchesis clubs, a forerunner of today’s cheerleading dance teams.  The university dance program, still part of the Department of Physical Education, sponsored the first of a still-unbroken chain of university-based dance troupes, the University Dance Company.

In 1974, the Department of Drama/Dance was created.  University dance companies included Dance Montana, Dance Ensemble, Magic Movers, and Mo-Trans, or Montana Transport Company.  In the early 1990s, with the advent of the semester system, fall and spring dance showcases, a fall Mo-Trans concert, and the Spring Dance Concert were offered.  The Site-specific and Informal concerts were added due to popular demand.

Today’s dance students can choose from two career tracks: studio teaching or choreography/performance.  In addition to an extensive offering of college classes, the Dance Program offers classes for children and people with disabilities.  The School of Theatre & Dance invites well-known guest artists to conduct workshops and sponsors dance festivals and concerts, including the prestigious American College Dance Festival, which has been hosted here several times.