College of Visual and Performing Arts dance Jan Van Dyke School of Music Theatre and Dance

Jan Van Dyke: Dancing Through Life

Jan Van Dyke was one of the most prolific and well-known faculty members in the UNCG Department of Dance. Van Dyke had a long history with UNCG, beginning in 1989 when she received a doctorate in education.

Jan Van Dyke, ca. 1950s.

Van Dyke was born in Washington, D.C., on April 15, 1941, but spent much of her early youth in Germany. From an early age, much of her energy was spent focused on dance. She attended high school in Virginia, taking dance lessons at the Washington School of Ballet. Van Dyke earned a bachelor’s degree in dance from the University of Wisconsin in 1963 and a master’s degree in dance education from George Washington University.

Van Dyke often struggled to break into the dance world – working hard to get a foothold in New York City, the Midwest, and Washington, D.C. During her career, she was responsible for founding or co-founding numerous dance groups, including the John Gamble/Jan Van Dyke Dance Group, Jan Van Dyke and Dancers, and the Jan Van Dyke Dance Group.

She was particularly interested in the difficulties faced by women dancers – despite the stereotyping of dancing as a feminine career, she often wrote about the inequalities within the dance profession and the struggles women faced.

Van Dyke’s dance studies and career not only took her around the country, but also around the world. In the 1990s, Van Dyke traveled to Portugal as a Fulbright scholar. Her career was punctuated by other interesting tidbits, such as her stint as choreographer of a Rick Springfield video, Bop ‘Til You Drop.

Program outlining the offerings of Jan Van Dyke and Dancers, ca. 1970s.

With tons of interesting asides, it’s easy to forget that the bedrock of Van Dyke’s career was always rooted in teaching and a love of dance. Some of the earliest newspaper clippings chronicle Van Dyke’s early work teaching basic dance to “housewives” in the Midwest.
Van Dyke’s teaching career culminated in her arrival at UNCG as a student in the School of Education. Van Dyke received her doctorate in Education in 1989, then joined UNCG as a full assistant professor that same year.

While with the Department of Dance at UNCG, she taught a variety of courses, including technique, choreography, repertory, career management, and dance administration. Van Dyke was named head of the Department of Dance in 2006 and served until 2011. She retired from UNCG in 2012.

In addition to teaching, Van Dyke also worked as a producer, administrator, and artist in the Greensboro community. Van Dyke founded and directed the dance company Dance Project, which is responsible for the N.C. Dance Festival, Van Dyke Dance Group, and School at City Arts.

The Van Dyke Performance Space, located in the cultural arts center in downtown Greensboro, was named after Van Dyke and opened in 2016. Van Dyke donated one million dollars for its creation and worked tirelessly to gain a dedicated performing arts space in downtown Greensboro.

Van Dyke’s impact on the dance community, specifically the North Carolina dance community, is undeniable. Her choreography has been used by a variety of groups, ranging from the Washington Ballet to students at the Western Australian Academy for the Performing Arts in Perth. She was instrumental in founding the N.C. Dance Festival.

Van Dyke teaching students in Washington. D.C., ca. 1970s.

She earned numerous accolades in her field, including: North Carolina Choreography Fellowship, 1993 Fulbright Scholar, North Carolina Dance Alliance Annual Award 2001, 2008 Dance Teacher Award for Higher Education from Dance Teacher Magazine, and the Betty Cone Medal of Arts Award in 2011. UNCG awarded Van Dyke the Gladys Strawn Bullard Award for leadership and service in 2010.

Van Dyke donated her personal and professional papers to the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives in 2014-2015. Van Dyke passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer in July 2015.

The Jan Van Dyke Papers contains materials related to Van Dyke’s personal life and professional career as a dancer, teacher, and administrator. The collection contains Van Dyke’s choreography, correspondence, faculty materials, teaching materials, photographs, newspaper clippings, and video recordings.

Van Dyke’s materials, which afford a unique glance into a life dedicated to dance, reach back to her earliest childhood years in the 1940s and 1950s – from a photographs of childhood dance recitals to faculty materials and video recordings from her time at UNCG in the late 2010s.

By Patrick Dollar

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