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Martha Hill; Pioneer of Dance Education

November 22, 1995|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Martha Hill, a respected pioneer of modern dance education who founded the American Dance Festival and developed dance departments at four major institutions, has died. She was 94.

Ms. Hill died Sunday at her home in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In 1934, Ms. Hill became director of the Bennington School of the Dance, a summer school at Bennington College in Vermont that marked the first time that modern dance had been recognized as a separate art form.

When that summer program evolved into the American Dance Festival based at Connecticut College in 1948, Ms. Hill was the founding director. The festival has since relocated to Duke University in North Carolina.

Ms. Hill helped create dance departments at New York University and Juilliard as well as Bennington and Connecticut.

She joined New York University in 1930 as a dance teacher and soon became department director, developing a graduate degree program. Remaining there until 1951, she simultaneously founded the Bennington program and taught there from 1934 until 1942, becoming the college's first dance department chairman.

In 1951, she established Juilliard's first dance department and directed it until her retirement in 1985.

Among her many honors were a Mayor's Award of Honor for Arts and Culture from the city of New York in 1984, and a testimonial dinner and recital at Juilliard in 1987 featuring presentations by Hill-trained choreographers, including "A Special Homage to Martha Hill," "A Vignette for Martha" and "A Waltz by Martha."

Over the years, Ms. Hill offered guidance and support to some of the major modern dance choreographers and performers, including Jose Limon, Merce Cunningham and Alvin Ailey.

She also served as a consultant to the U.S. Office of Education.

Born in Palestine, Ohio, Ms. Hill studied with Martha Graham and at Dalcroze School and obtained degrees in education from Columbia and New York universities. She performed with the Graham troupe before settling into teaching at Kansas State Teachers College, the universities of Chicago and Oregon, the Lincoln School and in New York.

A widow, Ms. Hill is survived by a stepdaughter, Judith Dilts, of San Jose, and a brother.

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