Internationally renowned dancer Ruth St. Denis founded the Department of Dance at Adelphi in 1938, one of the first dance departments at an American university. Now a cornerstone of our performing arts, it has close ties with the Paul Taylor and Martha Graham Dance Companies.
Modern dance legend Paul Taylor debuted his breakthrough work Aureole in 1962, a piece that The New York Times said “alters our notion of time.” As his first major success, the dance catapulted Taylor’s career. Many may not know that Taylor choreographed the famous piece by sketching in his notebook on the train to Adelphi, where he taught classes in exchange for rehearsal space.
For more than 80 years, dance greats like Taylor have been part of the fabric of Adelphi’s dance department. Founded in 1938 by modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis, the department was one of the first exclusively dedicated to dance at an American university. At the time, college dance was commonly grouped in with physical education. At Adelphi, it would be its own entity. As the first brochure stated, “Joy will be the keynote of all the teaching in the Department of Dance.”
That declaration holds true today, as the department provides new generations of dancers with real-world learning experiences at New York City dance companies, opportunities to perform and audition before they graduate, and individualized guidance from experienced faculty.
“Something that’s special and unique about this place is that we do not try to turn out one kind of dancer,” said Orion Duckstein, associate professor and chair of the dance department. “We really take it from the student while at the same time getting them as technically strong as they can.”
Associate Professor Frank Augustyn, known as “Canada’s Baryshnikov” according to Duckstein, has been an Adelphi professor for more than 20 years. Augustyn was principal dancer at the prestigious National Ballet of Canada and earned the distinguished title Officer of the Order of Canada for outstanding achievement in his work.
The dance department has also welcomed notable adjunct professors, including Juan Rodriguez of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; Troy Ogilvie, who performed in the award-winning Sleep No More; Oliver Tobin and Marnie Thomas of the Martha Graham Dance Company; and Flavio Salazar of American Ballet Theatre.
“The connections we have with the professional world can lead to a job or to people getting invited to auditions, which has happened many times with companies in New York and in the tristate area,” Duckstein said.
Sasha Smith ’14, for example, was noticed in performance by a guest from the Paul Taylor Dance Company. The visitor hired her to join their own company, Mazzini Dance Project, which they were just starting.
It helps, of course, that Adelphi is located just outside of New York City, where students can attend professional performances and complete internships at companies like the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Alison Cook Beatty Dance and Mark Morris Dance Group.
“A lot of people love coming here because it’s close to New York City,” Duckstein said. “They get to live in the suburbs on a nice campus, and then just take a quick jaunt to take part in everything that New York has to offer while studying with top-rate professionals.”
Alumni also go on to become professionals themselves—starting with powerhouse dancers in the ’70s and ’80s like Cathy McCann and Maureen Mansfield. More recently, Kenneth Murray ’15 made his Broadway debut in Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour less than a year after graduating. Logan Paschall ’18 is an independent choreographer who danced with Diavolo Dance Theater and Huntsville Ballet and makes his own hip-hop and contemporary fusion dances. And Alyssa Harris ’21 was offered a contract with Liberty Ballet in New Jersey before graduation.
Duckstein continues to adapt the curriculum to meet new technical standards and skills in the dance industry, ensuring students have the tools they need for success. He’s also considering new tracks for students who want to explore dance along with other business areas, such as education, physical therapy and psychology.
With these efforts, Adelphi can continue nurturing dancers and artists from across the world for another 80 years.