Former Dance Magazine Writer Rose Anne Thom Dies at 72
Dance historian, writer and educator Rose Anne Thom passed away from cancer last month. She was 72 years old. Thom was born in Montreal, where she trained in dance and studied at McGill University before moving to New York. Thom first wrote for Dance Magazine in 1968.
Thom was an educator at Sarah Lawrence College for more than 40 years. She began in 1975 as guest faculty and became full-time two years later, teaching dance history, Labanotation and pedagogy for both undergraduate and graduate students. She also served as dance program chair and as associate dean of studies during her tenure. She retired in 2015 and was named faculty emerita by the board of trustees.
In addition to her dance criticism for Dance Magazine (read a few of her reviews here, here and here), she wrote for Collier's Encyclopedia, Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, International Dictionary of Ballet and The Forward. As an oral historian for the Dance Research Collection of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the School of American Ballet Oral Preservation Project, she interviewed many dance artists including Julie Kent, Kevin McKenzie, Ethan Stiefel, Bessie Schoenberg and Sara Rudner.
Rudner, former chair of the SLC dance department (and 2009 DM Awardee), first met Thom during an oral history interview in 1995, and the two reconnected when Rudner joined the SLC faculty in 1998. "From then on Emily (Devine), Rose Anne and I became the three weird sisters. We were an interesting balance of forces that worked together to shape and run the dance program. Rose Anne had institutional knowledge that was extraordinarily helpful. She was central to all of the things that I ever thought of doing at SLC."
Rudner says Thom was a fierce advocate for the dance program, and her approach to dance was inspiring. "She was the person who put into words what I've always intuitively known but could not express: Dance is a way of knowing. In an academic situation where verbal and written communication are so highly favored, she believed that dance—not words, not writing—dance, the language of movement, is central to our humanity."
Thom's colleague and former SLC dance faculty member Emily Devine says, "She had this fervent belief in the power and value of dancing as an educational practice. She saw herself as a citizen of the college community and was extraordinary in that way." Devine says Thom participated in every aspect of the college and had made lifelong friends with faculty, students and staff. "She embraced being in that academic environment without ever compromising herself for the art. It was rare."
Mercedes Searer, a former student of Thom's, says, "She was incredibly rigorous and very spirited. That was a contagious thing that got you excited about learning. She could just make any small piece of information as an entire world unto it. And she wasn't just a scholar academically on paper, she was a mover."
Another former student, Aaron Mattocks, dance artist and Joyce Theater director of programming, recalls: "Rose Anne brought movement to language, and language to movement—writing about dance was elevated, in her purview, to simply writing. There was no caveat. She taught me (and everyone who studied with her) how to write, and how to write better, which was inseparable from how to dance better, and how to live better."
With such a long tenure at Sarah Lawrence, Thom was a mentor, advisor and teacher to so many who have continued in the field of dance and, having been impacted by her approach, have carried her with them through their careers. Additional former students of Thom's include Pam Tanowitz, Rashaun Mitchell, Pepper Fajans and John Jasperse, the current director of the SLC dance department. (Thom was part of the selection committee who chose Jasperse in 2016.)
Mattocks says: "She had a profound effect on my curiosity, my intuition and the path that my life would take. I can trace every moment and relationship in my professional life back, like a tree's roots, to Rose Anne."
Mattocks remembers that Thom once saw him perform at Jacob's Pillow and at Hartford Stage with Mikhail Baryshnikov. "I couldn't wait to get offstage to dinner so I could hear what she thought of the piece. Never so much about my performance, but about the work itself. Like we were writing the piece again in real time together. I was always eager for her conversation, and her questions."
Her fervor for the depth of dance was profound. Devine says, "Rose Anne was absolutely convinced of the value that the act of dancing had in increasing people's intelligence. Dance has a really powerful and important role in education and in making people wiser. That was her baseline."
Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.
Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.