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Gallaudet Dance Company Celebrates 60 Years of Dance

May 2, 2015
Arrow Buff

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The Gallaudet Dance Company celebrated a special milestone this year with a series of 60th anniversary dance concerts entitled, “Gallaudet Dance Company Celebrates 60 Years of Dance.” Crowds as large as 400 people gathered in Elstad Auditorium to attend the three performances on April 3 and 4 which featured both current and alumni dancers as they performed favorite dances from the past six decades.

“We were pleased to welcome back 20 alumni dancers, some of whom came all the way from Utah and Texas,” said director Susan Gill-Doleac ’82 and G-’84, who is also a former Gallaudet dancer. “That shows just how special the Dance Company is to the alumni dancers.”

The dancers performed crowd-pleasers such as “The Lord’s Prayer”, “Le Jazz Hot”, “Impossible Dream”, and “If You Believe”.

The Gallaudet Dance Company was founded in 1955 by Dr. Peter Wisher, a basketball coach and professor of physical education, after he saw a student signing the Lord’s Prayer in American Sign Language (ASL). Dr. Wisher was struck by the beauty of the movements and he envisioned using signs as the foundation for dance movements. One of the first dance routines Dr. Wisher created for the troupe was based on the Lord’s Prayer.

“I love how he incorporated abstract signs in his dances; it’s like poetry,” said Gill-Doleac.

At first, the dance troupe was social and recreational, but soon the group was asked to perform at events both on and off campus. Today, the 15-member group dances all kinds of genres, from lyrical ballet to hip-hop.

“Over 60 decades about 900 dancers have performed with the company,” explained Gill-Doleac. “The company has performed at the White House, Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Egypt’s National Theater of Cairo and on stages from Israel to Korea.”

Gill-Doleac said the company is considered to be one of the most exciting groups presenting dance with ASL.

“The dancers come from diverse backgrounds, in terms of their upbringing, education, preferred mode of communication, and college major, but the members bond over a shared love and passion for dance,” said Gill-Doleac.

The 60th anniversary performance was dedicated to former director Dr. Diane Hottendorf. Gill-Doleac took over the company after Dr. Hottendorf retired in 2011. Gill-Doleac is the first deaf director of the company. Dr. Martha Sheridan, a professor of social work at Gallaudet and former dancer, said the university is fortunate to have Gill-Doleac in that role.  
“She is one of the most positive and spirited people I know and her exuberance is contagious for dancers and audiences alike. She builds her dancers’ confidence, encourages their creativity, and inspires esprit de corps,” said Sheridan. “Her experience allows her to treasure and preserve the rich and unique cultural and choreographic heritage of the company across generations of dancers while allowing the company to continue to evolve.”

2 May 2015

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