Originally a Californian, Susan Waltner came to Smith after completing a B.A. in Sociology at Occidental College and a Master’s in dance at the University of Wisconsin in 1967. She has taught Studio Courses in Modern and Ballet; theory courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, courses on composition, improvisation, dance history, the scientific foundations of dance, site-specific dance, the performing arts of Asia, “Merce Cunningham in Context,” choreography and the creative process. She also developed a course called “The Mindful Body,” an experiential anatomy course for performers in music, dance, theater and visual arts. Since coming to Smith Susan has choreographed more than 65 works for student and professional peers.
Her creativity extends to program-building as well as dance. Two programs that she helped create and nurture are the Five College Dance Department ,which is one of the largest academic dance programs in the country, and Smith’s MFA in Dance, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. The Smith MFA program was truly Susan’s creation and is a continuing tribute to her vision and dedication. One of the first students in the MFA program was Becky Nordstrom who is now a professor of dance at Hampshire.
Much of Susan’s creative energy has recently centered on the Dance Generators, an intergenerational company that consists of dancers ranging in age from their teens to their 80’s. Susan has performed with Dance Generators in schools, libraries, concerts at Marlboro College, senior citizen housing, and in last year’s faculty dance concert.
This year Susan has characteristically chosen to support the Smith and Five College Dance departments by foregoing a final sabbatical and instead staying on part-time to chair the department when Rodger Blum was on sabbatical in the fall and to work with Lester Tome as he becomes established as a Smith faculty member.
Susan and her husband Nick Dines have long been active Williamsburgers. In recent years the village has been transformed because of the Nick’s exquisite gardening talents. Their two daughters, Emilie and Elanie, have grown up the Williamsburg and are both finishing college this year.
Rodger Blum recently told me that he admires Susan’s celebrations of life and love, with holidays, birthdays, meals for friends, and performances. He said that his favorite moments shared with Susan are:
a few simple things we both revel in each spring: the branch of early-blooming witch hazel she brings to her office, the odd, glorious redbud on Belmont Street that each year mysteriously blooms in two colors, and the perennial triumph of an ancient pink peony outside our old office building that explodes in huge blooms despite being mowed down each July. In these moments, Susan not only reminds me of the small celebrations and triumphs of life and beauty, but of the importance of seeing—truly seeing—as a life habit and creative practice.
We have all admired her choreography over the years and her talent as a dancer. The institutions she has founded, especially the Smith MFA in Dance, will continue to be a tribute to her vision and hard work. As we celebrate the program’s thirty-fifth year let’s also raise a glass to our colleague Susan Waltner in thanks for all that she has choreographed in her career at Smith.