A History of Dance at Case Western Reserve

The centennial of the building now known as Mather Dance Center was held in February 2008 to commemorate the 100 years of dance at Case Western Reserve. The heralded building was dedicated on Jan. 3, 1908, as the first gymnasium for what was then known as the College for Women. Until then, physical education activities had been housed in other campus buildings. Construction of the gymnasium was entrusted to the renowned local architectural team of Benjamin Hubbell and W. Dominick Benes, who also designed the Wade Memorial Chapel at Lake View Cemetery, the revival style portion of the Cleveland Museum of Art, the West Side Market and the Ohio Bell Telephone building. Construction of the 100×50-foot, two-story brick gymnasium began in 1906 and was completed in late 1907.

In this new facility, dance, an important part of the educational philosophy of the college, was soon integrated in the physical education curriculum. From the earliest days, the foundation was in place for this building’s future as a center for dance. By the late ’40s and ’50s, the Mather Dance Club was offering students opportunities for limbering exercises and artistic involvement. In 1956, Kathryn Karipides joined the Western Reserve University physical education faculty that ultimately included Nancy Gray, Geraldine Hull, Pat Kilpatrick, Mina Moore, Margaret Mulac, Marion Russell, and Mary Lou Stewart. Dance classes included ballet, folk, jazz, modern, social and square wance. That year also saw the inauguration of the Cleveland Modern Dance Association (now DANCECleveland), which over the years has held numerous workshops, lecture demonstrations, and master classes in the building with distinguished dance pioneers and noted artists such as Mary Anthony, Jean Erdman, Louis Falco, Dick Gains, Erick Hawkins, Dick Kuch, Murray Louis, Don Redlich, and Charles Weidman.

Expanded Curriculum

In 1972, the dance program at Case Western Reserve University forged a path like so many other programs at other institutions as it moved into the Department of Drama at the invitation of then-chair Ted Herstand. The departmental curriculum was enlarged to support concentrations in dance and shortly thereafter, the first graduate students in dance, Kathryn Cornett (’74), Jane Steinberg (’74), and Catharine Lindsay (’75), all completed their MA theses. At Herstand’s invitation, Kelly Holt devised a curriculum for a Master of Fine Arts degree, with the first MFA degrees being earned by Eddie Glickman (’75) and Gail Heilbron (’76). Holt joined the faculty in 1975 and began a long tenure as co-director of the dance program with Kathryn Karipides. The dance program had a significant impact on the development of dance throughout Ohio and became a founding member of the National Dance Association.

The first Mather Dance Series in 1979 offered a varied program of faculty and student concerts at about the same time the building became known as the Mather Dance Center. Since then, annual concerts at MDC have featured works by faculty, students, alumni and a veritable “who’s who” of dance artists. In recent years, dance programs have included masterpieces by the twentieth-century genius Martha Graham, renowned artists Erick Hawkins, Lucinda Childs, and Heinz Poll, and contemporary choreographers Mark Morris, Pascal Rioult, Lyndon Branaugh, and Jim Hansen all of which have been enthusiastically received by MDC audiences.

Mather Dance Center has also been the premiere venue for Scandals, founded in 1984 by Janet Meskin (MFA ’82), the well-known Cleveland area choreography project Food For Thought directed by Gina Gibney (MFA ’82), and David Shimotakahara’s Groundworks Dance Theater. It continues to be the home of the Department of Dance and its ongoing performance series as well as MaDaCol—Mather Dance Collective (formerly Scandals)–which is composed of upwards of 60 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and area dancers.

The building has also been the home for many major dance events including the OhioDance festival’s 25th Anniversary Celebration in 2001. Noted master teachers including Trisha Brown, Joe Goode, Bella Lewitsky, Claire Porter, and Clay Taliaferro as well as members of the companies of Batsheva, Sean Curran, and Paul Taylor have all taught at MDC in recent years. More university dance clubs, including the Spartan Tappers and Asian dance clubs such as Ekta and Nritya, enjoy the benefits of using MDC’s facilities.

New Opportunities 

Following the retirement of both Karipides and Holt, Karen Potter (MFA ’89) and Gary Galbraith (MFA ’88) were hired in 1999 as, respectively, director of dance and artistic director. While retaining much of the original curriculum during the transition, Potter and Galbraith have implemented new courses and programs that provide more opportunities for the increasing number of dance students at Mather Dance Center. Among these is Potter’s internationally recognized Dancer Wellness Program, which incorporates Galbraith’s unique web-based screening program benefiting dancers not only at Case Western Reserve University, but also at several affiliate universities and major U.S. dance companies.

Under the Potter and Galbraith stewardship, the nearly 50 year old dance program became a separate department in 2011 and now boasts a growing number of undergraduate dance majors from across the United States and graduate students from around the world. Notably, MDC has also been the birthplace of award-winning dance and technology projects. The Internet2 Consortium has called Galbraith’s Kinetic Shadows—a work for six dancers and five musicians in locations 2,500 miles apart—a benchmark for networked dance projects. The department also produced Galbraith’s Imagined Odyssey (2017) a dance that incorporated holograms and augmented reality in a one-of-a-kind large scale use of MIcrosoft Hololens technology.  Reaching beyond the walls of MDC, high-speed video-conference projects have facilitated master classes, kinesiology classes, rehearsals, and special events with Western Michigan University, Washington University, New World School of the Arts, University of Florida, and University of Akron.