CAS Colloquium: Kerber details early dance program history started by core group of ‘dedicated’ individuals

University archivist and special collections librarian Steve Kerber presented his research on the SIUE dance program's early history during the College of Arts and Sciences Colloquium. Photo provided by Theresa San Luis.

During the 10th College of Arts and Sciences Colloquium, university archivist and special collections librarian Steve Kerber presented the dance program’s early history.

Kerber said as a result of his research, he was impressed by how the talents and dedication of individual faculty members “can shape the evolution of our academic programs.”

“We sometimes think that programs always come about as a result of very careful systematic planning. This program in dance…really developed the way it did more because of the efforts of the individual faculty members than as the result of prior institutional planning…,” Kerber said, “The faculty members had an impact, the students had an impact and then the university supported their activities.”

Kerber said he was unaware that dancing was first taught in physical education classes before he began his research.

According to Kerber, Babette Marks, physical education for women professor, was the first instructor to teach dance, which she did through a modern dance course in 1959.

In 1962, Sara Carpenter became a physical education professor. She began to teach modern, ballroom and square dance as part of the physical education program. The next year, Carpenter and her students initiated a dance performance event called the “Festival of Dancing.”

Kerber said Myrna Martin Schild joined the physical education faculty in 1967. Schild began to work with the modern and square dance clubs and volunteered as instructor of the university cheerleaders who debuted that year at a soccer game. She continued to teach physical education and dance until 1996.

Alcine Joseph Wiltz was appointed to the speech and theater faculty of the Fine Arts Division (one of six divisions within the university) in 1968 and “charged to create an academic program in dance,” according to Kerber.

Wiltz earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in choreography from Southwestern Louisiana University in 1964. From 1964-67, while earning his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, he toured as a member of the Wisconsin Dance Theater Company. Wiltz was also a performer and choreographer at the East Carolina Summer Theater in North Carolina during the summers.

Kerber said he was impressed with Wiltz’s drive, commitment and accomplishments.

“I think he was very energetic and very dedicated to his students. He was starting something from scratch so that’s an opportunity, but it’s very challenging,” Kerber said.

According to Kerber, within Wiltz’s first year, he took two dozen theater students to the St. Louis Zoo to study the movements of birds in order to prepare them for the university’s production of a Greek comedy by Aristophanes, “The Birds.”

Wiltz taught modern dance, dance techniques, compositional theories and stage movement for the actors.
In 1969, Wiltz established “Dance in Concert,” an event choreographed by faculty and primarily performed by students. Wiltz also initiated the “Opus” series of performances in 1974, which featured dances choreographed and performed by students.

Effective January 1, 1975, the SIUE Board of Trustees established the School of Fine Arts and Communications.  The existing department of Speech and Theater split into three departments: Speech Communications, Speech Pathology and Audiology and Theater and Dance.  Students could not obtain a degree in dance but could major in theater with a dance emphasis.

In 1977, Kerry Miller became professor and faculty colleague of Wiltz.  Audrey Tallant joined the faculty in 1978 and taught dance for many years. Professor Tallant is currently music department chair.

According to Kerber, by 1983 Wiltz felt overcommitted and exhausted. He believed that “he had accomplished what he could at SIUE” and accepted a position at the University of Maryland.

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