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 and is part of the University of Utah Dance Department. 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. Ms. 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[2][3][4][5] 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.

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.

Creative Dance Program[edit]

The Virginia Tanner Creative Dance Program has been under the direction of Mary Ann Lee since Tanner's death in 1979. The University of Utah dance program was founded in 1940 by Elizabeth Roths Hayes. At the time of writing Elizabeth Hayes is 96 years old; and in April 2007 Bill Evans restaged in her honor For Betty at the University's Department of Modern Dance alumni concert, a work that he had choreographed to music of Antonio Vivaldi in 1970 for Repertory Dance Theatre at her request to see something "joyful and exuberant."[6]

Repertory Dance Theatre[edit]

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


Alumni of Repertory Dance Theatre include:

  • Linda Smith, current artistic director
  • Bill Evans, choreographer
  • Douglas Boulivar
  • Gregg Lizenbery
  • Joan Moon
  • Rick Rowsell
  • Karen Steele, danced with Lar Lubovitch after RDT
  • Kathleen McClintock
  • Kay Clark, RDT artistic director with Linda Smith 1977–1983
  • Lynne Wimmer
  • Manzell Senters
  • Martin Kravitz, danced with Batsheva Dance Company, Israel, after RDT
  • Ron Rubey
  • Tim Wengerd, after RDT, principal dancer with Martha Graham until his death in 1986
  • Joel Kirby, after 7 years with RDT 1979-1986, moved to NYC, performed in Robert Wilson´s "The Civil Wars" at BAM, Choreography: Ulysses S. Dove. In 1987 he moved to Berlin, Germany where he became a soloist at the Theater des Westens. Since 1999 he has been acting in feature films including Harrison´s Flowers, Babylon A.D., The Ghostwriter. Profile at

University of Utah Children's Dance Theatre[edit]

Official website

Children's Dance Theatre was founded by Virginia Tanner in 1949 in conjunction with and remains an integral component of the University of Utah's Creative Dance Program, of which she was also founder and director. The Children's Dance Theatre has begun rehearsing in its new home in the Beverly Taylor Sorenson Arts and Education Complex, scheduled for completion December 2013.[7][8]

Major performances[edit]

Major performances of Children's Dance Theatre [9]

Dancers and choreographers[edit]

Some significant dancers and choreographers from Children's Dance Theatre:

  • Cynthia Pepper, has own company in the Bay Area
  • Jacque Bell; independent Salt Lake City-based choreographer and Alexander Technique Instructor, teaches movement in the Department of Theatre at the University of Utah.
  • 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
  • Chara Huckins, former Repertory Dance Theatre member

University of Utah Virginia Tanner Creative Dance Fine Arts Preschool faculty[edit]

Official website


  1. ^ 45th Anniversary Concert
  2. ^ 50th Anniversary Concert
  3. ^ 60th Anniversary Concert

External links[edit]