Dance at SIU


Mallory Aukland | [email protected]

Students dance in Darryl Clark’s musical theater class at Altgeld Hall Jan. 28, 2022 at SIU in Carbondale, Ill.

The SIU School of Theater and Dance may seem misnamed. There is no major or minor available in dance.

Financial problems and faculty retirements devastated the program and the school is in a period of “transition,” according to Interim Director Mark Varns.

He said reviving at least the minor is “on the radar.”


“We clearly just became the School of Theater and Dance in July. And it is in our long-range plans to move toward that,” Varns said.

Getting back to a full fledged major will require a lot of steps, according to assistant professor Darryl Clark. In fact, he said it’s “dreaming in a big way.”

“It would take one) dedicated students, two) dedicated students, and I’m not talking like five or 10; I’m talking more like between 50 and 100. And that number would have to stay consistent. And then there would have to be the dedication of having a minimum of three full faculty members that are devoted to teaching dance,” Clark said.

Clark earned his BA in dance at Columbia College and his MFA in western New York and then choreographed several pieces, danced for several dance companies, and even spent time on a cruise ship as a performer.

“There would have to be a huge change in attitude about the arts, the performing arts and dance in particular in Southern Illinois for that to happen.” Clark said.

Dance classes are still offered by the school: ballet, tap, jazz and modern at the “basic” 100 level and multiple levels of musical theater dance, Varns said.

Donna Wilson, a retired dance professor from SIU said, “So, I got hired in 1986, and, at that time, there was a major, a minor and a graduate degree in dance at SIU, and there were three dance faculty at that time.”


Before the 80s, dance was thriving, but after that, the support and interest for the arts, especially dance, rapidly declined, Wilson said.

After a dance studio that was promised to the SIU campus fell through, one of the faculty members, who was disappointed, decided to leave, making Wilson the only dance professor at SIU at that time, she said.

“They were doing a university-wide cut back system. They were taking it [a] semester at a time and taking a couple departments at a time and saying it’s your turn, you need to cut back 5% of your faculty.” Wilson said. “And so the way our department did that, and I think the way a lot of departments would do that is if they would look at their program, and if they had faculty that didn’t have tenure, that’s who got cut.”

While dance was no longer offered as a major or minor, dance classes continued because a physical education credit was needed. Wilson said the dance classes were so popular that there were waiting lists to be able to take the courses.

Wilson and the chair of the theater and dance department were able to offer a minor for a few years before her retirement.

Unfortunately, Wilson said after she left, the dance minor was cut because the school couldn’t find anybody to replace her.

Wilson’s longtime dream was to get dance in with the musical theater major and minor because they support each other so much, so when she left, that’s exactly what happened, the theater program picked up dance and has been keeping those classes going, she said.

Right now, the theater program is continuing to look for professors willing to work part-time and teach dance classes, Wilson said.

“If we were in Chicago, [or] St. Louis, there would be qualified dancers willing to come in and work part time, but those people aren’t available right here, so it’s a matter of political will and having the money to hire to get that going.” Wilson said.

Unfortunately, because Carbondale is not a large enough city, the support for the arts, especially dance, is not enough to be able to keep it alive and thriving, Wilson said.

“It would be wonderful to have a dance spring from the ashes, so to speak,” she said.

Varns said reinstating the minor is something that is “continually discussed.”

“It is certainly something we intend to do,” he said.

Staff reporter Carolyn Dickte and Faculty Managing Editor Annie Hammock can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.