THE HISTORY OF DANCE AT WESLEYAN
In 1967, Ralph Pendleton, Chairman of Theater at Wesleyan, and Bessie Schönberg, Director of Theater and Dance at Sarah Lawrence College, arranged an exchange program between their two campuses. Selected Wesleyan theater majors commuted to Sarah Lawrence; and in exchange a Sarah Lawrence dance major, Cheryl Cutler, drove up from New York to introduce classes in modern dance to the all-male student population at Wesleyan.
Interest in dance grew rapidly on campus. In time additional part-time faculty were appointed, but demand quickly outdistanced the University’s readiness to support the new venture. For years, the funding for the program’s expansion and vision was pieced together from a wide variety of sources. The Theater Program generously offered what little it could spare in part-time positions. Grants were sought and alumni fundraisers were undertaken yearly by faculty. Students organized events such as Day of Dance, where classes, performances, and social dances were scheduled back to back in 24 hour marathons to raise money for dance projects, lectures, and concerts.
In 1971 a “Concentration in Dance” was made possible within the Theater major, and in 1976, separate and autonomous programs were formed within one department. A historical even occurred in 1979, when Cheryl Cutler became tenured, paving the way for other faculty in her discipline to follow.
Dance at Wesleyan owes its legacy to the vision of Ralph, Bessie, and Cheryl.
RALPH PENDLETON received his masters of arts degree from Wesleyan University in 1933. He joined the Wesleyan faculty in 1935 and shortly thereafter created the Theater Department, which he chaired until his retirement in 1974. In 1967, Pendleton brought about the introduction of dance to the Wesleyan curriculum by initiating an exchange between Wesleyan and Sarah Lawrence College students. It was on this fortuitous occasion that Cheryl Cutler a Sarah Lawrence senior was sent by Bessie Schonberg, the Chair of the Dance Department of this renown all women's college to teach Ralph’s Theater students at Wesleyan. Ralph’s appreciation for the art of dance in a university curriculum stemmed from his visionary idealism, and from the personal education he received about the form from his wife, Emily Pendleton, a dancer, choreographer, and sculptor. Mrs. Pendleton taught dance and art at St. Joseph’s College in Hartford from 1938 to the They collaborated on Theater productions and in her memory Ralph created in 1980 the Emily Pendleton Scholarship to be awarded annually, on the basis of need, to a Wesleyan dance major who is, in Ralph’s word, “significantly involved and shows outstanding promise in dance”. The department continues to be inspired by the visionary legacy of dance the Pendletons helped to foster at Wesleyan, and indebted to the spirit of innovation and excellence they helped sustain with their financial support of dance students.mid-1940’s.
BESSIE SCHÖNBERG VARLEY (1906-1997), Chairperson Emeritus, Department of Dance, Sarah Lawrence College and recipient of a 1989 New York State Governor's Arts Award, a singular teacher and mentor who has always demanded, first and foremost, that artists pursue and defend their unique visions. Early in her dancing career, Bessie Schonberg danced with Martha Graham, until an unfortunate knee injury prevented her from continuing to perform with the infamous group; she joined the Sarah Lawrence faculty in the 30’s, where she developed herself as a visionary teacher of composition. In 1967, Ralph Pendleton, Chairman of Theater at Wesleyan, invited Bessie to collaborate on an exchange program between their two campuses. Soon after, selected Wesleyan theater majors commuted weekly to Sarah Lawrence; and in exchange a Sarah Lawrence dance major (Cheryl Cutler) drove up from New York to introduce classes in modern dance to the all-male student population at Wesleyan.
CHERYL CUTLER - B.A. Sarah Lawrence College; M.A. Wesleyan University; founder of the Wesleyan Dance Department, Professor of Dance, and Department Chair for 32 years; Certified Movement Analyst in Laban Movement Analysis; co-founder with Randall Huntsberry of Sonomama Improvisation Dance Theater. After returning from Wesleyan in 1999, she and Huntsberry, former Religion professor at Wesleyan, co-founded Listening Unlimited www.ListeningUnlimited.com, where they lead movement improvisation workshops all across the United States to dancers and non-dancers alike. In 2007, they co-authored a book on their work and the discipline and practice of creativity in all walks of life, Creative Listening: Overcoming Fear in Life and Work (iUniverse 2007).