Virginia Tanner

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Virginia Tanner (April 25, 1915 – May 20, 1979) was an American dance instructor and founder of the University of Utah Children's Dance Theatre. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, she began her formal dance training at the University of Utah. She studied with Doris Humphrey in New York City before returning to Salt Lake City in the early 1940s to establish her school for creative dance for children.


Virginia Tanner[1] began teaching children at the McCune School of Music and Art in Salt Lake City in 1941, where she was director of the dance program. She went on to establish her own school within the University of Utah's continuing education program, which survives today under the direction of Mary Ann Lee as an auxiliary of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah.[2] In 1943, she formed the Modern Dance Theatre, a company that she co-directed with local dancer Barry Lynn. In 1949, she formed the Children's Dance Theatre.

In 1953, the Children's Dance Theatre performed at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Theatre in Massachusetts, the American Dance Festival in Connecticut, and New York University's summer camp in upstate New York to critical acclaim. Following the 1953 performances, the Children's Dance Theatre performed throughout the United States, including the Seattle World's Fair in 1962 and the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 1975. Tanner and her students were featured in Life, Newsweek and Dance Magazine and on national television.

In 1960, Tanner was instrumental in gaining a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to bring great choreographers to Salt Lake City to set work on dancers at the University of Utah. In 1966, through her efforts, a larger grant from the Foundation[3][4][5][6] was awarded to the University to establish the Utah Repertory Dance Theatre.

Tanner taught extensively throughout the United States through the National Endowment for the Arts’ Artist-in-the-School program. She was a contributing author to the Self-Expression and Conduct – The Humanities book series, published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in the 1970s.

Celebrated dancer and choreographer José Limón said of Tanner in 1978, "Salt Lake City is the most blessed city in the world to have the world's master children's dance teacher. There isn’t any place, and I include New York, London, Paris, Moscow, that has anyone who can touch her genius for teaching children the exciting purity of the dancing arts."[7] John Kerr, NEA Director of Education, called Tanner the nation's "outstanding children's dance teacher," noting that "she combines the techniques and training of the professional dancer with a marvelous and rare understanding of how to teach and inspire children."[8]

Tanner is the recipient of numerous awards, including an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University of Utah and a Plaudit award for inspired teaching from the National Dance Association.

Virginia Tanner died on May 20, 1979. The creative dance program she founded in 1949 continues to thrive and expand, sharing the methods of dance instruction that she pioneered.[8]

Virginia Tanner Creative Dance Program[edit]

The Virginia Tanner Creative Dance Program, also known simply as Tanner Dance, was founded and directed by Virginia Tanner until her death in 1979. It has since continued to grow as an auxiliary of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah under the direction of Mary Ann Lee.[2] In addition to the Children's Dance Theatre, its constituent programs now include a Fine Arts Preschool, an Arts in Education program providing weekly dance classes at elementary schools along the Wasatch Front, classes for dancers with disabilities, and professional development programs that train educators in the integration of arts in the classroom.[2] In 2014, Tanner Dance relocated to new headquarters in the 110,000-square-foot Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex on the University of Utah campus.[9][10] The program now serves about 5,000 students every week, including 4,000 students in site-based programs at elementary schools and another 1,000 dance students at the new complex.[11]

University of Utah Children's Dance Theatre[edit]

Children's Dance Theatre (CDT), the performing arm of Tanner Dance, was founded by Virginia Tanner in 1949 and remains an integral component of the University of Utah's Creative Dance Program. It is the second-oldest performing arts organization in Utah.[12]

CDT's first formal concert, held in May 1949 at Kingsbury Hall, was attended by Doris Humphrey, whose reaction was effusive: "Your children have left an indelible impression with me of true creative dance... Your children offer a wonderful proof of the power of the young artist, guided wisely, untarnished by dogma or routine, unstereotyped, and lovely. This source of fresh ideas in dance–art is a treasure house to which you have found the key."[13] Humphrey worked to help secure invitations for CDT to perform in the eastern US; CDT's subsequent performances at Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts, the American Dance Festival in Connecticut, and the 1962 Seattle World's Fair received national media coverage and wide acclaim.[8]

Today the company of 280 young dancers, ages 8 through 18, performs for more than 30,000 Utahns annually. Every spring, CDT showcases an original work at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City with matinees for school-age children and special populations.[12]

Major performances of Children's Dance Theatre:[14]

Notable dancers and choreographers from Children's Dance Theatre have included: Cynthia Pepper (Bay Area choreographer and filmmaker),[16] Jacque Bell (choreographer, Alexander Technique instructor, movement instructor in the Department of Theatre at the University of Utah),[17] Linda Smith (artistic director of Utah Repertory Dance Theatre), Lisa Warenski (philosopher, former dancer and choreographer), Lola Huth (danced with José Limón company), Mimi Silverstein (former Repertory Dance Theatre member), Tina Misaka (former Repertory Dance Theatre member), and Chara Huckins (former Repertory Dance Theatre member).

Repertory Dance Theatre[edit]

Utah Repertory Dance Theatre, founded in 1966 with Virginia Tanner's help, is still in existence and is one of the oldest and most successful modern dance companies of its kind.

Notable alumni of Repertory Dance Theatre include: Linda Smith (current artistic director), Bill Evans,[18] Douglas Boulivar, Gregg Lizenbery,[19] Joan Moon, Rick Rowsell, Karen Steele (danced with Lar Lubovitch after RDT), Kathleen McClintock,[20] Kay Clark (artistic director of RDT with Linda Smith 1977–1983), Lynne Wimmer, Manzell Senters, Martin Kravitz (danced with Batsheva Dance Company after RDT), Ron Rubey, Tim Wengerd (principal dancer with Martha Graham until his death in 1986), and Joel Kirby (vocalist and film actor).[21]


  1. ^ Redacted biography by the late Bruce Bennett, Virginia Tanner's husband
  2. ^ a b c Tanner Dance website. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  3. ^ Rockefeller Foundation Annual Report – 1967; see p. 130 printed report, p. 159 in the PDF
  4. ^ Rockefeller Foundation Annual Report – 1969; see p. 57 printed report, p. 74 in the PDF
  5. ^ Rockefeller Foundation Annual Report – 1971; see p. 76 printed report, p. 90 in the PDF
  6. ^ Rockefeller Foundation Annual Report – 1980; see p. 30
  7. ^ Tanner Dance website - About Tanner Dance: History
  8. ^ a b c Virginia Tanner biography at Utah History to Go. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  9. ^ Carole Mikita (2013-05-14). "Children's Dance Theatre celebrates construction of new studio with special dance". Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  10. ^ Lindsay Whitehurst (2014-02-26). "University of Utah unveils new arts and education complex". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  11. ^ Kim M. Horiuchi (2014-09-08). "Art and Learning: The new Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex fosters an innovative approach to teaching kids in all subjects". Continuum. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  12. ^ a b Tanner Dance website - Children's Dance Theatre. Retrieved 2023-08-10.
  13. ^ Tanner Dance website - About Tanner Dance: History. Retrieved 2015-09-21.
  14. ^ "Tanner Dance website - CDT Past Performances".
  15. ^ a b c Dorothy Stowe (1991-07-28). "Children's Dance: S.L. Is Setting the Stage for 1,000 Delegates to International Conference". Deseret News. Retrieved 2023-08-10.
  16. ^ Cynthia Pepper
  17. ^ Jacque Lynn Bell, University of Utah Department of Theatre
  18. ^ Bill Evans Dance
  19. ^ Prof. Gregg Lizenbery, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Department of Theatre and Dance
  20. ^ Repertory Dance Theatre - In loving memory: Kathleen McClintock McCormick
  21. ^ Jennifer Dunning (1983-08-18). "Dance: Utah Repertory Company at Damrosch Park". The New York Times. Retrieved 2023-08-10.
  1. ^ 45th Anniversary Concert
  2. ^ 50th Anniversary Concert
  3. ^ 60th Anniversary Concert

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