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Skidmore College
Dance Department
Mary Harney

Mary Harney (Retired 2022)

A dedicated educator, artist, and colleague, Mary Harney became an Artist in Residence at Skidmore College in Spring 2000 and received promotion to Senior Artist in Residence in Spring 2014. Her career at the college has exemplified the role of an Artist in Residence. Alongside her rich pedagogical skills and deeply committed service to the college, Mary choreographed over 30 new works that challenged and shaped countless students and their careers. She will be missed.

Mary graduated with a BFA in dance from the first graduating class of Purchase College Conservatory of Dance in 1977. During her time at the school, Mary solidified not only her expertise as a dancer but her love of teaching. Dancing with the Purchase Repertory Company and Martha Graham Dance Company, she also worked as a teaching assistant and began substitute teaching for her own professors. Indeed, Mary’s raw talent for teaching was discovered at a young age.  

Mary’s versatility as a teaching artist can be seen in the vast coursework she has taught throughout the department. Mary has taught all levels of modern technique, beginning ballet, beginning choreography, The Dance Experience, Introduction to Dance, Modern Performance Workshop, Senior Capstone II, and has served as rehearsal director for multiple guest artist workshops. Further, Mary was a founding faculty contributor in the Business course “Presenting a Brand Called Me” in which she used dance as a tool for self-reflection and presentation for students preparing for life outside of Skidmore.

Mary’s work as an artist is lush, powerful, insightful, musical, and sprinkled with a dab of humor. Mary’s ability to create work on Skidmore students as her primary muse demonstrates her expertise as a choreographer and coach alongside her dedication to the students within this institution. Students consistently flocked to Mary’s auditions hoping to receive a coveted role in one of her works. Further, Mary’s ability to take risks in her work with props and costuming was always a highlight of the faculty performances each semester. Mary’s talent and aesthetic as an artist will leave a lasting mark on this department and institution.

In 2012, Mary was among a small group of academic faculty invited to participate in the first annual Martha Graham Dance Company University Partners Showcase at the Joyce Theater in New York City as a part of the Graham company’s 86th New York Season. In this process, Mary directed Skidmore students to dance the masterwork, “Steps in the Street” from Chronicle 1936 which was also performed at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center. While Graham’s dances are often inaccessible to undergraduate college students, Mary’s expertise in Graham technique allowed Skidmore to be one of the very few institutions in the nation invited to participate and engage in this work. Additionally, in 2017, Mary was invited to reengage in this work and brought a second group of Skidmore students to the Joyce to perform “Steps in the Street”. Certainly, Mary’s work with the Graham company deeply impacted the dancers involved and provided a unique opportunity to showcase the Skidmore dance department in these prestigious venues.

Outside of her work within the department, Mary has been an active creative scholar in the field. She frequently collaborated with Skidmore Theater Department in the Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Theater and directed regional ballet productions throughout the capital district – most notably as rehearsal director for Northeast Ballet Company’s production of “Cinderella” and Annual productions of “The Nutcracker”. In 2013 and 2014, Mary was the producer, director, choreography, and faculty advisor for “Sprit of Life: Celebrating 150 Years of the Arts in Saratoga” for the Saratoga Arts Festival. She presented excepts of a work entitled “Black Dress” for the Committee of Independent Colleges and Universities 50th Anniversary Banquet at the NY State Museum in Albany, as well as a performance of her work “Genesis” at a Gubernatorial Inauguration Celebration at The Egg in Albany, and a donor appreciation banquet at Gotham Hall in N.Y.C. Her work has also been presented at the Union College Bicentennial Celebration in Schenectady NY, The Union College Steinmetz Symposium, Schenectady Community College, Fulton Montgomery Community College, Schenectady County Arts Festival and the Saratoga Arts Festival.

Mary’s contribution to the department and the institution cannot be discussed without recognizing her deep loyalty and commitment as a member of the Skidmore community. Mary’s reputation always preceded her as a faculty member deeply dedicated to service. Even when personal obligations came up, she never missed a college event, performance, or even a faculty meeting throughout her career. Mary was also the first to step up to volunteer to participate in service to the department: celebration weekend, admissions events, advising, hiring committees, SEE-Beyond awards, the list goes on and on. Mary’s CV is filled with a plethora of service, much more than can be described in this citation, and much of which has allowed the Skidmore Dance Department to become what it is today. Mary is truly a model of what departmental and institutional service and citizenship entails.

While Mary beautifully embodied the teacher/scholar/service model for faculty members, possibly her most lasting legacy’s in the department will be her kindness. Mary genuinely cared for each and every faculty member, staff member, and student who stepped foot into the dance studios. She was the first person to ask ‘how are you doing’ each afternoon (not morning, as she’s a night owl), and check in to ask about your family. Mary loves her two talented adult children Erica and Matthew, beautiful art, photography, and the joy of finding a great deal in consignment fashion. We wish her all the best in her retirement and hope her life continues to be full of all of all the things she loves.

Lynda Erbs, class of ’04, sent this tribute to Mary:

Martha Graham said, “Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire.” Looking back, I didn’t realize at the time that you were teaching us how to be better humans in this world. You were preparing us to be strong and independent yet also focused and compassionate. I cannot say thank you enough to Mary for her love and dedication to me not only as a student, but as part of my family. Her motherly love envelops me to this day, and I continue to channel her fortitude in the face of challenge. I only hope that the incoming generations will have the opportunity to experience such relationships as these.

Mary, we send you with gratitude as you move into your next phase of life!