Alma Hawkins; Founded Nation’s First University Dance Department at UCLA


Alma M. Hawkins, a pioneering dance educator and founder of the nation’s first university dance department, at UCLA, has died at the age of 93.

Hawkins, also an early proponent of dance as psychotherapy, died Jan. 8 at her Santa Monica home.

“Dance is one of man’s oldest and most basic means of expression,” she wrote in one of her four books. “Through the body, man senses and perceives the tensions and rhythms of the universe around him, and then using the body as an instrument, he expresses his feeling responses to the universe. From the fabric of his perceptions and feelings, he creates his dance. Through his dance he relates to his fellow man and to his world.”


Hawkins came west to teach dance in UCLA’s physical education department in 1953. By 1962, she had established the prototype university dance department as part of the UCLA College of Fine Arts, equal in status to the departments of art, music and theater.

She went on to establish a graduate program, campaign for grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and others and bring major dance companies to campus for public performances in Royce Hall.

Hawkins’ department began with 48 students and since then has graduated more than 500 dance majors who perform, teach and lead dance companies around the world.

In 1967, she started the West Coast Dance Film Archive, with the initial donation of a full-length color movie of “Swan Lake” performed by Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev.

“Dance cannot be understood or adequately appreciated . . . nor can it be accurately recorded for posterity except on film,” she told The Times when she began the archive 31 years ago.

The same year, Hawkins founded and headed the Council of Dance Administrators, an outgrowth of a conference sponsored by the U.S. Office of Education, Arts and Humanities. Under her leadership, the council published Standards for Dance Major Programs in 1979, a guide for dance certification curricula still in use today.


Along with her dance education work, Hawkins was a dance and movement therapist and researcher at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute for 17 years.

Expressing oneself in dance can relieve deep-seated emotional tensions and aid mental health, she said in her first book, “Modern Dance in Higher Education,” published in 1953.

Her other books are “Dance: A Projection for the Future,” 1968; “Creating Through Dance,” published in 1964 and again in 1988; and “Moving From Within: A New Method for Dance Making” in 1991.

After Hawkins retired from UCLA in 1977, she taught dance for another decade at Santa Monica College. She remained greatly in demand as a speaker at dance seminars and conferences.

Born on a dairy farm near Rollo, Mo., Hawkins excelled at basketball in high school and studied physical education at the University of Missouri. Living in New York City and working on her master’s degree and doctorate at Columbia University, she became interested in modern dance as Martha Graham and others were developing it.

After studying dance at Bennington College in Vermont, Hawkins taught at Emporia State Teachers’ College in Kansas and George Williams College in Chicago before moving to UCLA.


Among her awards over her long career were the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award, the University of Missouri Outstanding Woman of the Year designation and the California Dance Educators’ Award.

Hawkins is survived by her sister, Alice Hawkins. Memorial donations may be made to the Alma M. Hawkins Scholarship Fund, UCLA Foundation, Box 24209, Los Angeles 90099-4214.

A memorial service is planned for 4 p.m. Feb. 27, in the Sequoia Room of the UCLA Faculty Center.