Mary DiSanto-Rose (Retired 2020)
Mary DiSanto-Rose arrived at Skidmore College in 1981 with long flowing limbs and long flowing hair – both of which she blessedly still possesses! She has been spreading her unique brand of loving kindness and devotion to teaching ever since. A mesmerizing performer, The Schenectady Gazette once described her stage persona like this: “Her spirit is imbued with Isadora Duncan’s life-affirming, nature-inspired diversions of delight.” This utterly describes Mary as well: that life-affirming spirit has played a major role in the development of hundreds and hundreds of students as well as the dance department itself.
Mary graduated from St. Lawrence University with a New York State Teaching Certificate in the Sciences and went on to earn a master’s degree and doctoral degree in Dance Education from Temple University. She began her Skidmore career as a part-time instructor teaching Modern Dance, Improvisation, and Performance Workshops. The following year she was hired full-time and expanded her course work to include Kinesiology (which was designed for athletes and dancers), Dance History, and a newly created course, Dance for the Child. Mary specializes in reconstructing classic modern dance works of the early 20th century, and through her restaging of works by masters such as Doris Humphrey, José Limón, and Isadora Duncan, countless students have embodied the rich history encoded in their work. Under Mary’s directorship, many students benefitted from the opportunity to deepen their studies, touring and performing Isadora’s works in the archaeological sanctuaries of Greece, France, and Italy which served as the choreographer’s early inspiration.
Mary played a crucial role in the evolution of the dance department. In 1980, at the time of her hire, we were the Department of Physical Education and Dance, and in 1990 Dean Phyllis Roth asked her to become our Program Director. She remained in this role from 1990 to 2005, and skillfully led the way as the department transitioned to the Department of Exercise Science, Dance, and Athletics, and finally to an independent department. We proudly became the Department of Dance in 2005 and Mary served as our first Chair until 2009. This is but one example of her tenacious and remarkable service to Skidmore College and to our community.
A faithful contributor to the All-College Curriculum, Mary enjoyed many rich interactions with her colleagues in other disciplines. During the 1990’s she contributed to the Liberal Studies II program with a course entitled Women, Creativity, and the Performing Arts, team taught with Carolyn Anderson from Theater and Wilma Hall from American Studies. From 2000 to 2004, she taught in Liberal Studies I as part of The Human Experience, working closely with Michael Marx and Terry Diggory, to name a few. And finally, in an impressive crescendo of both department and college service, for the past twelve years Mary has worked with Sheldon Solomon as part of the FYE Human Dilemma’s team. Fortunately, Mary loves advising!
Mary’s desire to expose our students and the upstate New York region to major artists and companies led her to develop the unforgettable summer dance residencies at Skidmore. As the recent elimination of these residencies now coincides with Mary’s retirement, to say it’s “the end of an era” doubles in significance. It all began in1984 when Mary joined the Board of Directors of the New York Capital Region’s Dance Alliance, an organization dedicated to supporting dance in our area. Soon after she established a connection with the legendary Beverly D’Anne, Director of the New York State Council on the Arts. Beverly had just initiated the Long-Term Dance Residencies for New York state, and Mary saw the opportunity for Skidmore to be one of the first partners and hosts. This preceded the establishment of Special Programs, so with just a few student assistants Mary took on the colossal task of coordinating, negotiating, scheduling, budgeting and publicizing a 5- week residency with the world-famous José Limón Company. Those who followed were a veritable Who’s Who of the dance world: Twyla Tharp, Trisha Brown, Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris, Martha Graham, Lar Lubovitch, Doug Varone, and many others of note. In 1996, Mary expanded the program to include a January residency whereby companies would use the studios for creative time and interact with Skidmore students upon their return to campus.
Mary has given tirelessly to her professional community. When she assumes leadership, it tends to have a 10- to 30-year run. She fervently promoted dance as President and Vice-President of the board of the Capital/Saratoga Dance Alliance for over three decades and has been the co-coordinator of the area Dance+ Festival for the past 26 years. She has been on the Boards of Partners in Dance – A Consortium of Capital Region Dance Sponsors, NYS Dance Educators Association, and the NYS Council on the Arts Dance Panel. She has been a guest lecturer in Greece, France, Italy, at the National Museum of Dance, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, The Egg Theater in Albany, and Skidmore Special Seminars. As part of a cultural exchange, she worked hand in hand with the indigenous people of Guatemala, offering dance classes to women and children in their villages. Acknowledgements for her service have included the following: an honorary Doctor of Arts from St. Lawrence University; the Innovative Leadership in Dance Education & Legacy award from the American Dance Legacy Institute, and the Exceptional Service and Scholarship award from the National Dance Association.
So many students have written to express their gratitude to Mary; their sentiments are beautifully summed up by Marti Wolfson, class of ‘02, who poignantly articulates the common thread: "There is so much to say to a woman, teacher, mentor, and leader whose wingspan is so wide. You have been one of the great women in my life whom I've looked up to and admired, for what you taught through dance extended to living life with grace, confidence, curiosity, and strength.”
Endings and transitions are an inevitable part of life, often prompting us to take stock of our accomplishments, and in Mary’s case there are far too many to mention. But, endings also leave us with pressing questions about the future, and none more pressing than the one posed by our department member, Jason Ohlberg: “Who will bring the trail mix to our meetings?” For some 40 years Mary has blown into our meetings, always fashionably late, her ever present decorative can of homemade trail mix tucked under her arm, issuing a cheerful “How Do”! Alas, our “mix-less” meetings will be a doleful reminder that we are a department without Mary, but her essence will continue to vibrate in our studios, on our stage, and in the lives of our students. Mary, we all love you and wish you brilliant new beginnings. Dance On!