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Colleges have played a major role in the unprecedented development of dance since the 1960's.  In order to acknowledge and foster this development, the concept of a national organization that would sponsor college/university regional conferences* and national dance festivals was presented by Jean Erdman and Betty Lind for discussion in October, 1971. Plans were formulated and the concept initiated under the leadership of Lydia Joel, former editor of Dance Magazine; and Jeanne Beaman, Director of Dance, University of Pittsburgh.

The focus of these conferences and festivals was to be on dance as a performing art; the aim was to encourage and recognize excellence in performance and choreography on the college level.  The conferences and festivals would have multi-dimensional purposes:

  • to raise standards of excellence in college and university dance program;
  • to provide an opportunity for college dancers to have their works adjudicated and critiqued by established professionals;
  • to provide professional classes, workshops and performing experiences as well as other opportunities for interaction among all participants;
  • to provide students the opportunity to perform outside their own academic setting and be exposed to the diversity of the national college dance world;
  • to build a network of communication within the college dance community and between the college and the professional dance world; and
  • to provide regional and national visibility for college-trained choreographers and performers.

In the spring of 1973, a pilot Regional Conference was hosted by the University of Pittsburgh.  Jeanne Beaman served as Chairperson of the Regional American College Dance Festival Committee and was assisted by Lydia Joel, Chairperson of the National Committee.  Three adjudicators, Hanya Holm, Rod Rodgers and Marian Van Tuyl, traveled to 25 colleges and universities in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia and viewed some 65 pieces of choreography from which material was selected for the two Conference concerts.  Workshops, master classes by professional artists, and informal presentations of student works were an integral part of this conference and set the pattern for later conferences.  Attendance numbered over 500 participants representing 59 colleges from 18 states.  After the Pittsburgh conference, the "American College Dance Festival Association" was established as a non-profit corporation.  Adam Pinsker, director of the Association of American Dance Companies, was instrumental in the establishment of the organization and provided valuable support services.  Originally formed with 13 charter member colleges and universities, membership currently stands at over 300 institution

During the first years of its existence, ACDFA generally sponsored one or two regional conferences in any one year. However, by the late 1970's, under the direction of Patricia Wityk Boyer, Swarthmore College, and with the generous support of The Capezio Foundation, additional regions were developed so that five conferences were held in 1979-1980 and five the succeeding year.  The first National College Dance Festival was held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., May, 1981, in cooperation with the Kennedy Center Education Program (Jack Kukuk, Director) and Nancy D. Johnson, Coordinator of Dance Program, George Washington University.

The combined total registration for all six events  [five regional and one national]  held in 1980-1981 was 2,388.  To facilitate communication and planning, the Board of Directors established ten separate regions in 1981, appointing representatives to the Board to supervise the development of each of these regions.  It was also around this time (1982) that the "codified" first edition of the conference handbook was published making planning for the conferences more consistent. The goal of the Association was to eventually sponsor ten regional conferences annually, and national festivals every other year if feasible.

Within five years, this goal was almost fully realized.  Eight regional conferences held in 1986 attracted 1,700 participants from 46 states and there were 355 registrants at the National Festival representing 30 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.  Twenty-five dances selected from 218 adjudicated works were performed at the third National College Dance Festival held May 22-24, 1986, in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center.

In 1986, the Association had reorganized the country into nine regions.  All nine regions held conferences in 2001-04.  By the turn of the 21st century, attendance at regional conferences topped 3,000 participants each year.  Over 30 schools were represented at the National Festivals. In 2004 the Association redistributed the country into ten regions to accommodate growing membership and conference attendance.

As of April 2005, 198 Regional Conferences have been held [14 from 1973-80, 63 from 1981-1990, 78 from 1991-00, and 45 from in 2001-2005].  Eleven National College Dance Festivals have been hosted by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1981, 1983, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2002 and 2004; the University of the District of Columbia in 1986; the University of North Texas (Denton, TX) in 1990; Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ) in 1992; and the University of Maryland, College Park in 2000. 

The Capezio/Ballet Makers Dance Foundation has given on-going support to ACDFA through its sponsorship of 199 regional conferences  and national festivals from 1973 to the present.
Presidents of ACDFA's Board of Directors

1973 - 1974        Marian Van Tuyl Campbell, Mills College

1974 - 1976        Jeanne Beaman, University of Pittsburgh & Ruth Ambrose, Boston Conservatory of Music

1976 - 1978        Margaret Skrinar, University of Pittsburgh

1978 - 1980        Patricia W. Boyer, Swarthmore College

1980 - 1982        Paula Levine, Hollins College

1982 - 1985        Betsy M. Carden, Brooklyn College

1985 - 1987        Paula Levine, Hollins College

1987 - 1989        Charles Robertson, University of New Hampshire

1989 - 1991        Carol Halsted, Oakland University

1991 - 1994        Sybil Huskey, University of North Carolina/Charlotte

1994 - 1997        Alcine Wiltz, University of Maryland/College Park

1997 - 2000        Judy Allen, California State University/Long Beach

2000 - 2005        Luke Kahlich, Temple University

2005 - 2009        William Seigh, Keene State College

The Regional Conference

The Regional Conference is the life-blood of ACDFA and enables students to engage in a wide variety of dance activities including workshops, lecture/demonstrations and master classes.  The conferences also highlight the outstanding choreographic and performing talents of this country's college and university students through adjudicated concerts.  In most cases, the conferences culminate with a gala concert featuring works selected for their exemplary artistic qualities.

Starting in 2012, ACDFA has now established twelve regions throughout the country for organizational purposes and maintains a strong regional structure through its regional representatives and institutional membership to help facilitate the exchange of information. Colleges and universities, however, may attend any regional conference and may present one or two works for adjudication.  If presenting two works, one must be choreographed by a student.

At regional conferences, students and faculty from diverse backgrounds meet to expand the boundaries of their own creativity in a positive and mutually rewarding way. The process has been carefully refined in order to provide the optimum learning experience and an open and constructive forum for students and faculty to receive feedback from a panel of nationally recognized dance professionals. ACDFA encourages objective feedback and a non-threatening, non-competitive perspective. ACDFA is firmly committed to this method of emphasizing the educational process and supporting the training and development of dancers, choreographers, and dance educators. It has been exactly this educational environment that has played such a major role in the unprecedented development of dance since the 1960s.

Among the many distinguished people who have accepted the responsibility for adjudicating regional conferences are: Carolyn Brown, Martha Hill, Marjorie Mussman, David Vaughn, Molissa Fenley, Senta Driver, Walter Terry, Mary Anthony, Stuart Hodes, E. Virginia Williams, Jennifer Tipton, Cliff Keuter, David Howard, Robert Dunn, Nancy Hauser, Liz Williamson, James Truitte, John M. Wilson, Bill Evans, Don Redlich, Bessie Schonberg, Robert Barnett, La Meri, Jack Anderson, Jeff Duncan, Joanne Woodbury, Maria Grandy, Liz Lerman, Mark Taylor, James Clouser, Alfredo Corvino, Donald McKayle, Sean Curran, Elizabeth Streb, Brenda Dixon-Gottschild, Fernando Bujones, Doug Varone and Alonso King, to name a few.

The National College Dance Festival

The National Festival, normally a biennial event held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., showcases dances selected by the adjudicators from each of the Regional Conferences based on their outstanding artistic excellence and merit. The primary objective of the National Festival is to highlight, on the national level, the outstanding quality of choreography and performance that is being created on college and university campuses. The National Festival provides this venue in three gala performances.

In 1981, the American College Dance Festival Association presented its first National College Dance Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in conjunction with the Kennedy Center Education Program and George Washington University. The adjudicators for the First National College Dance Festival were Pauline Koner, Murray Louis, and Clay Taliaferro.  In 1983, the National Adjudicators were Senta Driver, Loyce Houlton and Clive Thompson.

Due to escalating costs associated with producing the National Festivals at the Kennedy Center, the next three Nationals were produced on campuses. In 1986, the National Festival was held at the University of the District of Columbia (Nancy Wiltz, coordinator) and seven National Adjudicators Jennifer Donohue, Virginia Freeman, Joseph Gifford, Maria Grandy, Peggy Lyman, Lawrence Rhodes and Jennifer Scanlon, served the eight Regional Conferences. For the 1990 National Festival hosted by the University of North Texas (Sandi Combest, coordinator), three dances were selected from each Regional Conference to be presented at the Gala concerts.  A change was made in the selection process for the 1992 National Festival hosted by Arizona State University (Lee Meryl Senior, coordinator). The number of dances invited from each region to perform on the National Festival concerts was based on the number of pieces adjudicated at the regional conferences.  A highlight of each National Festival continues to be the presentation of the ACDFA/Dance Magazine Awards, which provide cash awards to an outstanding performer and an outstanding student choreographer.

It remained a long-range goal of the organization to return the National Festival to the Kennedy Center, and in 1994, after years of negotiation and the generous support of the Education Program of the Kennedy Center, the Sixth National Festival was held there in May. The Festival featured discussion forums and master classes, but the focus was on the three Gala Concerts. The Seventh and Eighth Nationals were held at the Kennedy Center in 1996 and 1998, and the Ninth National was held at the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2000.  The 2002 and 2004 National Festivals were back at the Kennedy Center and plans are to maintain the National Festivals at the Kennedy Center, if at all possible, through 2012.
A large roster of dance professionals who have participated in regional and national festivals includes: Edward Villella, Bella Lewitzky, Melissa Hayden, Paul Taylor, Viola Farber, Honi Coles, Ben Harkarvy, Sophie Maslow, Chuck Davis, Mel Wong, Sukanya, Carolyn Adams, Lynn Simonson, Pearl Primus, Yvonne Chouteau, Cynthia Reynolds, Kelly Holt, Ann Barzel, William De Young, Peter Sparling, Kei Takei,  Fernando Schaffenberg, Alwin Nikolais, Phyllis Lamhut, Dan Wagoner, David Gordon, Gus Solomons, jr., Liz Lerman, and David Parsons.

ACDFA’s growth over the years substantiates the organization’s commitment to a strong national network within the academic dance community. Even with the devastating impact of economic cutbacks and the recent demographic changes in higher education, the dance field is relying increasingly on colleges and universities to secure the future of the art form. ACDFA’s sponsorship of regional conferences and national festivals continues to be the primary educational (non-competitive) means for college and university dance programs to perform outside their own academic setting and be exposed to the diversity of the national college dance world.

In the history of ACDFA, there were two additional noteworthy ACDFA projects:  The Scholarship Program and the Faculty Choreography Series.  Both were discontinued in 1993 due to difficulties in administering the programs.

The Scholarship Program was initiated in 1985 and developed and administered by Betsy Carden.  By 1988, scholarships for summer study valued at more than $15,000, were granted to conference participants. In 1989, the Scholarship Program expanded to include twenty-five cooperating institutions offering summer scholarships valued at over $27,000. For the summer of 1992, over forty scholarships to twenty institutions were offered.
The Faculty Choreography Series was launched in 1988 to develop opportunities for college and university faculty to present their work in a nationally-recognized performance venue, professionally presented and adjudicated by written critique by a panel of nationally-recognized dance professionals.  The first series was presented at Duke University and directed by Dorothy B. Silver, National Planning Committee Chair.  The Duke University, Institute of the Arts’ Dance Program and the American Dance Festival again co-sponsored this project in 1989.  The Third and Fourth Faculty Choreography Series were presented in conjunction with the Dance Center of Columbia College on June 14 & 15, 1991 and June 25 & 26, 1993 respectively and organized by Heywood ‘Woody’ McGriff of the University of Texas at Austin. Generous support for the 1991 and 1993 Series was provided by the Gillman Foundation.