Dr. Peter Wisher (1911 - 1995) was the founding director of the Gallaudet Dancers. Dr. Wisher came to Gallaudet in 1955 as a professor of physical education and as head basketball coach. He was the director and choreographer of the deaf dance company until his retirement from Gallaudet in 1981. Wisher was born in Shenandoah, Pa., graduated from Stroudsburg State College, and earned his master's and doctoral degrees in education from Pennsylvania State University. He also studied dance and choreography at Bennington College and Connecticut College. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and the Korean War and was a Naval Reserve lieutenant commander until 1954.
Wisher began the dance company as a recreational activity for students. By the end of his career, the dance company had gained national recognition with appearances on such television programs as "60 Minutes" and "The Mike Douglas Show."
"I can't see much difference between choreographers and sports coaches," Wisher said in a 1983 interview, "both orchestrate movement."
Dr. Diane Hottendorf, joined the Gallaudet faculty in 1981 and served as Director of the dance company for 30 years after retiring in the fall 2011. A native of California, she did her undergraduate degree at California State University, Northridge, and her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Southern California, majoring in dance. Before coming to Gallaudet, she held teaching positions at the University of Southern California, California State University, Northridge, Chapman College's World Campus Afloat, and Moorpark College.
Hottendorf became director of the dancers at Gallaudet when Dr. Wisher retired. She changed the group's name to the Gallaudet Dance Company and incorporated American Sign Language into the performances. She has also added jazz, tap, and ballet to the group's repertoire and a dance minor to Gallaudet's curriculum.
"Our aim is the same as that of the rest of the activities that Gallaudet provides: to produce a well-rounded person," says Hottendorf.
(Photography by Astrid Riecken.)
Sue Gill-Doleac, current Director of the Gallaudet Dance Company, is a Gallaudet alumna (B.S., physical education; M.A., deaf education) and was a member of the Gallaudet Dancers during her undergraduate years on campus. Ms.Gill has been assistant director of the Gallaudet Dance Company since 1982. "More than 745 dancers have been involved over the life of the company," says Gill, pointing out that many dance companies fold after a few years due to funding problems, while the Gallaudet Dance Company has been in existence more than 55 years.
(Photography by Ben Baylor and Astrid Riecken.)