Dance as an academic field of study has deep roots at the University of Wisconsin, where Margaret H’Doubler (1889–1982) founded the first university courses in dance in 1917. She established the first university degree program in dance anywhere in the world in 1926. As dance educator and historian Janice Ross shows in her book Moving Lessons: Margaret H’Doubler and the Beginning of Dance in American Education (UWP, 2000), H’Doubler was both emblematic of her time and an innovator who made deep imprints in American culture. An authentic “New Woman,” H’Doubler emerged from a sheltered female Victorian world to change the way Americans thought, not just about female physicality but also about higher education for women.
In her efforts to create a curriculum, the “Wisconsin Dance Idea” was born:
“We’ll begin on the floor, relieve the body of the pull of gravity and explore movement in a basic way. We’ll rediscover the body’s structural limitations and possibilities, we’ll attend to movement sensation. We’ll create movement out of our knowledge of body structure, no imitation. We’ll study movement as movement first. We may never arrive at dance, but we’ll make an honest beginning.”
Eventually, H’Doubler would write a pioneering book, Dance: A Creative Art Experience. UWP published it in 1957 and issued a second edition in 2001 with an essay by Mary Alice Brennan of the UW-Madison Dance Department. Dance Magazine noted that “as a dance pioneer, Margaret H’Doubler combines both vision and down-to-earth practicality. It is she who established dance as a part of the college curriculum [and] organized the first campus performing group.”
UWP continues to publish books on dance, including publishing the series Studies in Dance History in collaboration with the Society of Dance History Scholars.
You can browse the full list of UWP dance books, covering American and global dance traditions, criticism, and issues, on our dance subject page.
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I’m so grateful for Ms. Doubler making it so we can get degrees in dance at the university! It’s pretty incredible. I would not be where I am today without that happening!