Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Mary Easter to retire after four decades of teaching dance at Carleton

<ve exploding expectations,” dance professor Mary Easter explained, in what amounts to a reasonable mantra for her work. “One of my favorite parts about teaching is having people come into your class and looking at them and thinking ‘they don’t know it’s going to be fun.’” Easter, who has spent the last 40 years at Carleton redefining peoples’ expectations for dance, plans to retire at the end of next fall term.

This weekend is Easter’s final Spring Dance Show, which encompasses performances by Carleton’s repertory dance company, Semaphore, Carleton’s Fall and Winter dance classes, and Carleton Dance faculty.

The show showcases a drastically different dance program than the one that existed when Easter arrived at Carleton in 1968. Easter, who arrived as a staff wife and first served as a French tutor for the college, saw her own career in dance change in much the same way as the department itself.

“I took classes here,” she remembers, “I started in beginning dance, even though I had danced my whole life…after a year, I changed my whole career plan.” Easter, who was originally trained in music theory, decided to pursue dance professionally. To that end, she began taking classes in the Twin Cities and eventually teaching at Carleton once a week. When the previous dance instructor left, Easter applied for and received the job, teaching in a part-time capacity.

In the early years, Easter would still drive up to the Twin Cities for dance classes and company rehearsals. She notes that she would often bring students up with her.

“We were in this together,” she says. The odd and laborious process of the development of Easter’s early career, which did not get a three-year review until her eighth year teaching, concluded when she received her Master’s degree and an Assistant Professorship in 1979. As a final project for her Master’s degree, she taught the first dance class for academic credit at Carleton. The class was called “Music as a Resource for the Dancer,” and it explored the relationships between music and dance, taking advantage of Easter’s background in music theory.

“From then on, there was really an investment in dance,” Easter said of the department’s growth. “Courses were very important because Carleton is about academics, and if you want to do something seriously it can’t be an extracurricular…I didn’t want Dance to be a second-class citizen. I wanted a trained exploration of the art form.”

Today, Easter is a part of a dance faculty of four, which includes lecturer Jane Shockley, ballet instructor Jennifer Bader, and new professor Judith Howard, who has been hired as Easter’s replacement.

“I think we’re enjoying all being here together,” Easter said of the unprecedented size of this year’s dance department. “One of the great things about how the college is approaching this is that Judith Howard has already been hired and is getting used to the college and the program here.”

Currently, dance is a possible special major for Carleton students, an arrangement that Easter says makes sense given the current configuration of the department, which does not have enough faculty to handle a large number of majors. The major requires multiple independent studies and a level of preparedness from the students when they arrive. Since the major’s inception, there have been four special major and there are two applicants in this year’s sophomore class. Easter said, though, that all four dance majors so far have successfully pursued careers in dance. Nonetheless, the dance program at Carleton is ultimately for everyone.

“I hope it will always be available to a student who wants to explore. We have beginning dance courses every term,” Easter says of the dance program. “There are dancers in Semaphore who started dance here.” She notes, however, that doing dance seriously requires a true commitment that many Carleton students are unable to find because of their busy schedules. As a result, she praises the efforts of multiple dance groups on campus such as Ebony II, WHOA!, and social dance to get students involved to a comfortable degree.

“I think that having different groups with different goals is valuable. There should be a way for students to dance in whatever way they want,” she says. “All these programs help the academic dance program and academic dance is a help to them.”

Looking towards retirement, Easter has a number of plans. First among these is a full-length dance performance she intends to unveil in January 2009, right after she retires. The first part of this performance will be performed in this weekend’s dance show.

“I decided I’d schedule it then to remind myself of my art,” she said. Easter notes that she also plans to travel with her husband, whom she married last summer, to spend more time with her grandchildren, and to finish some writing. However, she still plans to dance as long as she can.

“I have been a performer and I am not going to stop being a performer,” she says. Many students got an idea of Easter’s work when she performed at Opening Convocation in 2007, a performance that took many aback due to its context. “I don’t know if they were looking in interest, disgust, or what, but they were looking,” Easter says of the performance, adding that “It was a very satisfying time for me.”

Although Easter will be retiring soon, she wants to encourage people to engage her work. She will be performing Friday and Saturday night at 8:00pm in Arena Theater as part of the Spring Dance Show.

“I want to connect and communicate,” she says. “I want to grab people’s attention, even if they ask ‘what is that?’” Professor Easter also said that she hopes for some feedback from the audience. “I’m not trying to be strange; I’m trying to get my point across. I’d like to hear back from people.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *