The recent opening of the Michele and Martin Cohen Hall for the Integrative Creative Arts last fall provided a big boost for the program. Michele Resnick Cohen, UVM ’72, and her husband Martin Cohen made several gifts totaling $7 million to transform the Elihu B. Taft School—located at the corner of South Williams and Pearl streets—into UVM’s first integrated center for the creative arts. As part of the project, the school gymnasium was fitted with a new sprung floor.
Professor of Dance Paul Besaw has led the dance program since its inception in 2006—last year he was appointed chair of UVM’s Music and Dance Department. A quiet but deeply committed leader, colleagues in the program credit Besaw with creating a collaborative atmosphere that builds on the interest and talents of faculty.
"He wants you to do your thing, and he really supports you doing your thing," said former Senior Lecturer Clare Byrne. "He's empowering you and maybe shaping it just a little bit."
"This is all thanks to Paul's vision and unrelenting hard work in course planning and dance faculty hiring," wrote UVM music professor Patricia Julien. Since coming to UVM in 2006, “he has accomplished a tremendous amount."
Even as a minor, the program has always had an outsized influence on the student experience at UVM.
In his first year at UVM, Besaw was surprised by students' "openness and readiness" to participate in the American College Dance Association’s New England Regional Conference, an annual event where students showcase new pieces.
"Without even trying," said Besaw, "I had seven students who wanted to go, and we figured out a way to share some work."
Every year since, UVM students have performed at the conference, where they also interact with students and faculty from other dance programs. Since 2008, four UVM student choreographers' works have been selected for juried performances at the biennial ACDA regional concert.
Many alumni who majored in a wide range of disciplines minored in dance and regarded it as a big part of their education and personal development. Mia Pinheiro ’15, a geography major, took ballet and jazz dance classes as a child.
“I owe so much to the UVM program, especially to (senior lecturer) Clare Byrne,” she said in a 2018 interview. “I took several courses from her and she totally opened up the world of dance.”
Describing herself as a “movement artist,” “choreographer” and “roving performer,” Pinheiro used her UVM experience as a springboard to a vibrant career in dance that has taken her many places, most recently Mexico.
Heather Cairl ’09, a film and television major, created and performed a solo piece “Dirthead” as a student. A decade later she came back to Burlington to perform it again as part of the program’s 10th anniversary celebration in 2017. Cairl was trained in dance growing up in Sunderland, Mass., though she hadn’t yet explored it as an expressive medium.
“My real dance personality didn’t emerge until I started at UVM,” she recalls. “Paul’s choreography class was a huge part of that. Paul is such an incredible teacher—he really inspired me and pushed me to discover more about dance.”
At UVM, Cairl pursued dance as an independent study. She joined the Orchesis Dance Company, a student-run group her freshman year, and began performing with independent dance organizations in Burlington.
“Dance was always sort of a hobby for me. After joining the company and connecting with the dance community in Burlington, it became a huge part of my life.”
Elizabeth M. Seyler, Ph.D., contributed reporting from her piece, "Sprung Forward: UVM academic dance program marks 13 years with a new major and new digs," in the March 20 issue of Seven Days.