Short History of the Western Oregon University Dance Program

This exhibit provides a brief history of the dance program at Western Oregon University and its predecessor institutions for the 40th anniversary from 1976 to 2016.

Origins of the Program

Dance has been a part of the curriculum of the institution dating back to the turn of the 20th century and was originally part of the Physical Education Department at the Oregon State Normal School. Dance classes included Basic Rhythms, Folk and Square Dance, Social and Modern Dance.

In 1976 Rice Auditorium was completed and the first dance concert was produced and directed by Jamie L. Aiken, a P.E. instructor who taught dance classes and choreographed musicals for the theater program. The husband and wife team of Ray Miller and Jessica Wood arrived in 1978 and dance became part of the Creative Arts Department.

With a single dance studio (the Old PE building, room 212), Ray and Jessica began developing the dance program and added technique classes in Ballet, Jazz and Tap, as well as theory courses in Choreography, History and Education. In 1980 the State Board of Higher Education approved the dance minor. 

Dance at Western Oregon State College (1982-1997)

OCE became Western Oregon State College (WOSC) in 1982 the same year that Ray and Jessica left and a second husband and wife team, Elaine Heekin and Bruce Walczyk arrived.  Like Ray and Jessica, Elaine and Bruce shared a single faculty position; the first full-time position in dance was filled by Jacky McCormick (1985-1996), when she replaced Elaine and Bruce in 1985. 

Jacky continued alone until Sharon Stokes Oberst joined her in 1987. The program grew and more full-time faculty arrived with Deborah Jones in 1992 (retired 2015), and Darryl Thomas in 1997. With the new faculty came many new course offerings to the program including Creative Dance for Children, Dance and Technology, Creativity, Dance Production, Dance Pedagogy, Partnering and many more. 

Dance at Western Oregon University (1997-present)

In 1997, WOSC became WOU, and dance no longer shared Maple Hall with the ROTC. A sprung floor was installed in Maple Hall and the process of turning the studio into an informal performing space began. The dance major was approved for the 1999-2000 academic year.

Susan McFadden came to WOU in 1999 (retired 2011). Dr. Marita Cardinal (Wellness for Dancers, Conditioning for Dancers and Kinesiology) and Amy Rance McDonnell (Modern, Ballet and Dance Somatics) joined the dance faculty in the fall of 2008. Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner (Modern, Jazz, Tap, Composition) joined the faculty in 2010. Les Watanabe (Ballet and Modern) joined the faculty in the fall of 2014.

The much-needed new dance studio in the Health and Wellness Center opened in the spring of 2011. 

Maple Hall

For much of the campus's history, Maple Hall has served the dance program.  The hall, built in 1913 and dedicated in February of 1914, served as the gymnasium for the campus from 1914-1936.  The building cost $8,500.

An April 1914 edition of The Norm, the student newspaper at the time, reported the opening like so:

The new gym (Maple Hall) opened February 27th 1914.  After the Maple dedication by President Ackerman, Miss Laura Taylor, the head of the Physical Education Training Department, presented a program that consisted of "marching, club swinging, exercises and a pantomime interpretation of the beautiful old tale, 'Cinderella'."

Maple Hall became the Student Center when the “new” gym, now known as Old PE, was completed in 1936, then became a gym once again for the campus elementary school in the 1960s.

The dance program and the ROTC shared the space from 1988 until 1996 when Maple Hall became a full-time dance studio and performance space. 

In the spring of 2014, Dance major Courtney Martin recreated the May Pole and Garland Dances for Maple Hall’s Centennial Celebration.


The primary research for this information was prepared by Courtney Martin (class of 2014) as an Independent Study and by Sharon Oberst, Professor of Dance.

Scanning of the poster images was completed by Marta Herring, WOU Archives student employee.

Original Omeka ID: /collections/show/3