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Department of Dance remembers deceased founder

A screenshot of “LEGACY: Helen Alkire and The Department of Dance at The Ohio State University.” Credit: Courtesy of Peter Richards’ YouTube page

A screenshot of “LEGACY: Helen Alkire and The Department of Dance at The Ohio State University.” Credit: Courtesy of Peter Richards’ YouTube page

Helen Alkire, founder and renowned matriarch of the Department of Dance, passed away Saturday morning at age 100.

According to the Department of Dance website, Alkire first came to Ohio State in the mid-1940s as an instructor in the physical education department. In the 1950s, she persuaded university officials to install a dance program.

“The only thing I ever remember as a child was wanting to dance, and seeing dancers, and talking about dance, and doing something with it, making it the most important thing in your life,” Alkire said during a recent visit to the department.

Alkire became chair of the OSU Department of Dance when the College of Arts was formed in 1968. She stayed in that role until 1983, when she retired. As chair of the department, she established several degree programs.

She was one of the founders of the National Association of Schools of Dance and took part in the early establishment of multiple dance organizations. In 1990, OSU granted Alkire an honorary doctor of education degree “in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the field of dance in higher education,” according to the department’s website.

Alkire’s contributions live on in the students she has taught.

Susan Hadley, current chair for the Department of Dance, pursued her master’s degree in dance at OSU when Alkire was chair.

“She became a great mentor for me, not only as an artist, but as a leader,” Hadley said. “I think I speak for generations of graduates, of our undergraduate and graduate programs, Helen mentored us to be a complete artist.”

After pursuing her professional career in New York City, Hadley returned to OSU to be a choreographer, then was a faculty member for 25 years before being appointed chair of the department this autumn.

“So many people that Helen trained have a similar kind of career trajectory that spans across the course of our careers,” she said. “We’re walking in very big footsteps.”

Dianne McIntyre gave her thoughts on Alkire at her 100th birthday celebration on May 30 in Sullivant Hall on campus.

McIntyre went on to become a nationally known choreographer and teacher and was nominated for an Emmy after being taught by Alkire in her final year of teaching.

“It was an atmosphere of perfection, excellence and warmth,” said McIntyre of Alkire’s classes. “We were semi-afraid of Helen Alkire, and at the same time we loved her as our dance mother. She was firm, strict and always kind.”

The Helen P. Alkire Scholarship fund was established in 1983 and is awarded to a talented undergraduate or graduate student based on an essay application.

Helen Alkire teaching dance on roller skates, circa 1940. Credit: Courtesy of Dori Jenks

Helen Alkire teaching dance on roller skates, circa 1940. Credit: Courtesy of Dori Jenks

Cailin Manning, a fourth-year in dance specializing in performance and choreography, has received support from Alkire’s scholarship for the past three years.

Manning, who is originally from Nashville, Tennessee, said that the scholarship has helped alleviate the cost of out-of-state tuition and made her feel welcome within the department.

“It’s given me a sense of appreciation to push forward and keep working, keep choreographing and making things to put it to good use and not let it go to waste,” Manning said.

She regrets never having had the opportunity to meet Alkire, but has often heard stories about her time in the department.  

“She’s just been a very solid figure within the history of the department,” Manning said. ”It’s been nice to know that she and her family have been so involved at OSU even after she gave up the chair seat.”

Following the example that Alkire set, Manning said that pure love of dance continues to drive dance at OSU.

“I think everyone in the department pushes themselves so much and gives everything for it just because we know we are able to make a career and a life out of doing something we love,” she said.

Alkire’s graveside service takes place Friday at 1 p.m. at Pleasant Cemetery, 14220 Era Rd., Mt. Sterling, Ohio.

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