Former UCLA Dance Department Chair Allegra Fuller Snyder Dies at 93

July 25, 2021

Allegra Fuller Snyder, professor emerita and former chair of the department of dance at UCLA, and a founder of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, died July 11 at her apartment in Westbrook, Maine, at the age of 93.

The daughter of R. Buckminster Fuller and Anne Hewlett Fuller, Snyder was born in Chicago in 1927. Her primary education was at The Dalton School in New York City, a learning experience she cherished.

It was at Dalton that she came to the world of dance, which would form the basis of her professional and artistic career. “I came to dance,” she said, “because it was one of those natural, first, non-verbal responses to life—after walking, almost always comes dancing.” Among her classmates at Dalton, and lifelong friends, were Nancy Lassalle and Marian Seldes.

Before matriculating at Bennington College, and while a student there, Snyder attended the School of American Ballet along with Nancy Lassalle and studied with Martha Graham. While on leave from Bennington, she worked at the International Film Foundation in New York City from 1949 to 51.

On graduation day from Bennington College in 1951, Allegra married Robert Snyder, who won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1950 for his film The Titan: Story of Michelangelo. After the birth of her two children, Alexandra Fuller Snyder and Jaime Lawrence Snyder, Allegra and Bob drove west to Los Angeles. With her children in school, Allegra enrolled at University of California, Los Angeles, earning a master’s in dance in 1967 and soon joined the faculty there. She retired from UCLA in 1991.

During her long career at UCLA, Snyder developed many curriculum innovations concerning dance, ethnography, culture, art and film. In addition to serving as chair of the department of dance at UCLA, Snyder helped develop and direct the creation of the world arts and cultures interdisciplinary program, which became the department of world arts and cultures/dance in 1995. She researched and lectured widely around the world, including a year in England on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1983-84. In the 1970s she lectured in Mumbai and conducted fieldwork in Kerala, India, also under the Fulbright banner.

She was long active with the Congress on Research in Dance and served as an expert to the National Endowment for the Arts’ dance programs. Snyder was a visiting professor of performance studies at New York University in 1982-83. She also taught at the California Institute of the Arts and at Naropa Institute.

Snyder was keenly interested in exploring the use of film in documenting and advocating for appreciation of dance in all cultures. In film her work ranged from an historical documentary about the Weimar pioneer of modern dance, Mary Wigman, to a performance film about the Israeli/Adenite dancer Margalit Oved. With her husband Robert, she made an ethnographic film about the Philippine dance troupe Bayanihan.

She was also a core consultant on “Dancing,” an eight-hour series for PBS.

As an active teacher, colleague and mentor during her tutelage at UCLA, Snyder assembled a diverse coterie of lifelong friends. One traditional ritual performed many times over the years was the annual pilgrimage to the Yaqui ceremonies at Easter in Tucson, Arizona. This was also a journey in which she began to include her family and friends.

Following the death of her father, R. Buckminster Fuller, in 1983, Snyder took a significant role in determining a path to preserve her father’s work and promote its relevance going forward. As co-founder of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, and its longtime president, she was a passionate and articulate educator on the principles of her father’s work. Through many lectures and conferences, she challenged people to think independently and follow their unique experience in life, by championing Bucky’s refrain to “do their own thinking”—and “do what needs to be done” in support of Spaceship Earth.

Snyder enjoyed and took a keen interest in the growth of her two grandchildren, Olivia Allegra May and Rowan Keith May, and of her two step grandchildren, Mira Kennedy and Elizabeth Demaray. Snyder’s husband Robert died in 2004. After 55 years in Southern California, Allegra packed her bags and moved back home to New York City. She spent eight years living in Murray Hill, fully engaged in New York dance and culture, as well as reconnecting with lifelong friends and family. Throughout her life she spent many summers on Bear Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine. —Written by the Snyder Family