History of Utica Dance


More than forty years of dance
According to Geraldine Von Lindenberg Clifford, one of the founders of the dance program at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, “In the fall of 1973, we (Geraldine Clifford and Marcia Brunner) received approval to start a dance program from the painter, Mr. John Manning, who was the director at the time and wanted to start a performing arts department as well”. For many years Geraldine and Marcia had been teaching dance at the YWCA in Utica and in their own Allegro Ballet School, which was housed in the original Players Theater Building in New Hartford. That fall Marcia and Geraldine brought their students and program to the Studio Building on Tracy Street.  Geraldine then hired local professionals to join her in teaching ballet, jazz and modern dance. They produced shows in the Museum and at the Stanley Theater including Hansel and Gretel, The Snow Queen and the History of the Mohawk Valley told in dance.

From the beginning, the Institutes’ Dance Program set the standard for providing the highest quality dance instruction and often included teachers from outside the area. Among them were Misha Korogodsky, Sandra Balestracci, Tomaslav Vukovic and Michael Steele of the New City Ballet. Lynn Vance Bollana, Lesley and Chase Clifford, Beth Nackley, Emily Taylor Hildebrand and Deborah Deck Evans were among the many dancers from the first decade of classes who continued their dance training with the New York City Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, and Purchase College among others before performing professionally.

By the fall of 1982, Nancy Long began teaching at both the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute and Hamilton College after she retired from a performing career in the NYC-based Danscompany. When Geraldine retired, Nancy Long and Mary Ellen Agen assumed the running of the program. By then, MWPI dance classes were held in the vaulted attic of the former Mandeville Street School. While there, Nancy and Mary Ellen formed their own non-profit (501-C-3) performing group for local professional dancers and exceptional students from the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute. The UticaDanceWorks, Inc, co-directed by Nancy and Lynn was in operation for six years, presenting concerts at Utica College, Hamilton College, the James Street Theater and local festivals. Besides Nancy’s choreography, Jane Tavalin Schwartz and guest choreographers and dancers from NYC frequently contributed.

After several years in a third home at the DeSales School, the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute purchased it’s current home for the dance program next to Fountain Elms. For the last twenty years the program has grown in numbers and has an admirable legacy of offering pre-professional dance training as well as providing dance classes in ballet, jazz, tap and modern dance for the community.
Twenty-six years ago the Dance Program outgrew Utica College’s Strebel Auditorium and moved to Wellin Hall, Hamilton College for the Annual Spring Concert. Each year the dance program has produced two shows featuring the different styles of dance offered at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute. Nancy Long and Kathy Ryan, senior instructor in jazz and tap, have created countless original pieces of choreography ranging from Nancy’s contemporary ballet works to her adaptation of several pieces based on children’s literature to Kathy’s stunning dances set to a wealth of great music from the 1940’s to the present. The versatile training at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute ensures that their dancers are equally adept in ballet as they are in jazz, tap and modern.

During Nancy Long’s thirty-one years at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute she also created many dances that reflected and commented on the works of art in the Museum including “Gestures: Dances to the Rivendell Collection”, and the exhibits of Rodin and European Modernism. In 1991 the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute commissioned Nancy Long’s “Across the Doorsill” an evening length modern dance that was presented in the Sculpture Court of the Museum. Original music, created by Glen Velez and Mirabai, accompanied the professional dancers and students in the piece based on the life of the Sufi poet, Rumi.

Ten years ago the dance program began presenting it’s own Nutcracker in the MVCC Theater. Since then, hundreds of student dancers and guest professionals from NYC have appeared in this cherished classic ballet. At the time the dance program ends operations as part of the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, the current dance faculty will have taught a combined 108 years at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute. They are Nancy Long, Lynn Bollana, Kathy Ryan and Sharon Warncke.

When you visit the studio starting July 2014, you will still see the bustling activity in the dance building but with a new name on the door, Utica Dance.