The Willis Ballet
A History of the Texas Tech University
Brief History of Dance at
Texas Tech University
The Department of Physical Education at Texas Technological College was started in the fall of 1925, with Miss Johnnye Gilkerson as the instructor. Miss Gilkersonís physical education program offered a variety of activities to the students including the study and appreciation of dance.
Instructors, such as Miss Sue Rainey, helped to make activities, like the social Dance Seeions held every Wednesday night, events to remember. Students paid an admission of a dime which helped pay for records played on the nickelodeon. The dance sessions were festive and entertaining. Square Dance Week was another event looked forward to each year by students as well as residents of the Lubbock community. Athletes, as well as other members of the community, were not just learning to dance, they were actually enjoying it!
The expansion of the Department of Physical Education introduced the addition of new faculty members who had new ideas to share with the students in the area of dance. Interest continued to grow in dance, and a college, club, Orchesis 56, was formed in 1956. Under the direction of Dr. Dorothy Hoyle, the club promoted contemporary creative dance by giving numerous performances, in conjunction with other departments, for organizations on campus.
Because of the increased interest in dance, it became evident that a dance specialist would be needed. Mrs. Suzanne Aker joined the physical education staff in the early 1960ís as the dance specialist. Mrs. Akerís lunch hours were spent teaching ballet classes without credit. The large number of students attending these classes proved the interest in ballet and it was therefore added to the curriculum and the high enrollment in all of the dance classes indicated a need to establish a major in dance.
Through the efforts of Mrs. Aker and Dr. Mary Dabney, Head of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department for Women, two degree plans were approved. The Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Education with a specialization in Dance and the Bachelor of Arts Degree with a major in dance became realities in the fall of 1969. Twenty-four dance majors and five dance minors enrolled in the program that fall semester.
In 1971, Mrs. Diana Love Moore, with a B.F.A. Degree from Butler University and an M.F.A. Degree from Southern Methodist University, joined the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department for Women and served as Chairman of the Dance Division. She was the choreographer for 75th Anniversary of Texas Tech University and many local organizations.
In 1972, Ms. Peggy Willis (now Willis-Aarnio), with a B.F.A. and M.F.A. Degrees from Texas Christian University joined the faculty as the ballet specialist. In 1977, she became the Chairperson of the Dance Division of the HPER Department.
In 1975, Prof. Peggy Willis-Aarnio staged the first ever local full-length ballet, Coppelia, in celebration of Texas Techís 50th Anniversary at the Lubbock, Municipal Auditorium. In 1982, her original full-length ballet, Dracula was carried live on P.B.S. and shown or recorded for future viewing by over 70 per cent of the PBS Stations nationwide. In 1983, a local group of people formed the Willis Ballet, a 501C Non-profit performing arts company in honor of the work of Prof. Peggy Willis-Aarnio and to help support her work in choreography. The Willis Ballet has also supported the dance program by making performance opportunity possible for dance students at Texas Tech. The Willis Ballet has also represented the Dance Program at Texas Tech to over 240 Cities nationwide presenting Russian Classical Ballet and Prof. Willis-Aarnioís original work to such theatres as the Jackie Gleason Theatre in Miami and Pace University in New York City. Her work has also been presented in Russia at such Theatres as the Hermitage and the Pushkin Theatre and in Europe, such as Malta. Also, Professor Willis-Aarnio is published internationally and well known for her educational products as well. Her first major book was published in November 2002, by Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, N.Y.
The strong dance program gives appreciation to its growth to Dr. Margaret Wilson, former Chair of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation for Women, to Dr. Martin McIntyre, former Chair when the Departments of Health, Physical Education and Recreation for Men was combined with the Women, to Dr. Richard Weaver, former Chair of the Department of Theatre, and to Dr. Norman Bert, former Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance and to Dr. Garry Owens, Interim Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. The dance program, however, owes its existence to Dr. Jane Winer, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for her understanding and support of Dance Division both in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and when it moved and joined the Department of Theatre (now Theatre and Dance) in 1992. The talented, dedicated teachers such as Diana Moore and Peggy Willis-Aarnio along with Folk Dance teachers such as Peggy Williams and Patsie Scales Ross (during the years when dance was a division of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation) have all been instrumental in the growth of Dance at Texas Tech. In 1992, too, Professor Peggy Willis-Aarnio became the first American certified by Valentina Roumiantseva, Senior Methodologist of the Vaganova Ballet Academy in the Teaching Method of Classical Dance making Texas Tech University a vital and leading force in dance education in America. In 2001, Galina Ragozina Panova, internationally known and recognized dance artist, Gold Medal Winner in Dance at the Varna International Dance Competition and star on Broadway in New York and London for two years, joined the Dance Faculty as Visiting Assistant Professor.
Dance graduates from Texas Tech University have gone on to enjoy careers in dance in ballet and modern dance companies and as Department Chairs/Directors in Dance Programs and Schools across the United States. For more information about the Dance Program in the Department of Theatre and Dance, contact: Prof. Frederik Christoffel, Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, P. O. Box 42061, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas 79409; telephone (806) 742-3601 or e-mail Fred.Christoffel@ttu.edu.
to view video of
Professor Peggy Willis-Aarnio's