Born to teach; that describes Elizabeth Roths Hayes, who will retire from the University of Utah in June, having chalked off her 48th year as a member of the dance faculty as assistant professor, professor, department head and now professor emeritus.
Indeed, without fanfare, Hayes has surpassed the record of Maud May Babcock, who spent 46 years on the U. of U. faculty. And nobody there begins to approach Hayes's longevity in teaching modern dance.Fastened to a shelf in her office is a tiny motto from an admiring student: "Teachers hold their children's hands for just a little while, their hearts forever."
"I love teaching, I would do it for nothing if I just didn't have to eat! Many people kill themselves to make money, and they are unhappy. What's the point? We teach because we care, we love the students, we are no concerned with immediate rewards. When even one person writes to say how much I have influenced his or her life, all the effort is worthwhile."
Hayes probably little imagined back in 1940 how long she would stay here, or what Utah would eventually mean to her. Beginning as the only modern dance faculty member at the University, she went on to supervise a busy department with as many as 125 teachers and students.
Choreographer and director of at least 35 dance productions, author of articles and textbooks, guest teacher, member and officer in national professional organizations, guest speaker and consultant, and recipient of local and national honors, her accomplishments have been many. But her attention is still focused on the future.
"I love teaching my dance history class, and have been working under a University grant to assemble slides to accompany it. I want to write a textbook for the class and put my 1,450 slides on all modern arts in a film strip.
"I believe that all arts are permeated by the same universal influence. I have traveled widely to many primitive peoples, in the South Sea Islands and New Guinea, to the South American Indians compiling notes about dances I have seen.
"I am trying to discover and show what rituals are universal: rites of passage, of fertility, agriculture, hunting, worship, war. While anthropologists study one civilization in depth, I hope to show the ways in which many societies resemble each other, to address the innate instinct in all of us that necessitates expression through dance not just cutting across the geographic spectrum, but throughout the historic spectrum."
How did the midwesterner make her way to Utah? "In the late '30s I was teaching at Rockford (Ill.) College for Women," said Hayes. "One day I rode along with a friend to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and found out that the U. of U. was looking for a dance teacher. A faculty member told me, Betty, you are just the right person for that job, and she recommended me.
"But I was unconvinced, I didn't want to leave the Midwest. I took a June session in New York with Hanya Holm, and while I was there I got a letter from Utah offering the job. I cried and cried; I didn't want to change, but I knew the opportunity and challenge were so great that I must."
An only child, Elizabeth Hayes was born in Ithaca, N.Y., where her father was a professor at Cornell. He later became head of mechanical engineering at West Virginia University, and Hayes attended high school in Morgantown, where she had next to no exposure to dance. Things were little better at WVU. "I was going to be a painter, or maybe a poet," she said. "Actually, I ended up majoring in botany.
"In college I took the only two dance classes offered over and over, and in 1929 I took over the dance for the May Festival. I was a choreographer before I was a dancer. If you don't realize how much you don't know, you feel wonderful about yourself!"
Hayes' first real technical training was in graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, where she earned a master's degree in 1935. There she worked with dance education pioneer Margaret H'Doubler (see accompanying story on this page). Later in Sweden she studied with Berta Ochsner, who at Wisconsin had been president of the parent chapter of Orchesis, founded about 1925.
"That was my first experience working with a professional dancer. She used to swear at us when we weren't right, and I was often not right! Ochsner was a very fine dancer and choreographer, and I think she could have been a good teacher, but she allowed her desire for technical perfection to dominate.
"Perhaps that's the big difference between dance educators and professionals; the former are concerned primarily with what experiencing dance will do for the human being, and the latter care most about the end result _ dance performance. Professionals turned teachers often take shortcuts in their handling of people, sometimes damaging egos."
Hayes spent summer 1938 at the Bennington Summer School for Dance in Vermont, at the height of its glory, when the faculty included Hanya Holm, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, Martha Graham, Louis Horst and Martha Hill.
"I was in on fantastic things," she recalled. "Humphrey created and staged her `Passacaglia' that summer, and Graham did her `American Document,' the first major work in which speaking was used, and the first time she used a man - Erick Hawkins - in her choreography.
"But I must confess I didn't really enjoy all the classes. Humphrey struck me as a rather cold person, and Horst scared us out of our wits. I think I would have learned more from him if I hadn't been so terrified."
In summer 1939 the Bennington School was moved to Mills College in California, to give westerners fair access, and Hayes again attended. "On the way home, some of us stopped here to swim in the Great Salt Lake. That was fateful, because when I was offered the job here I at least knew that Salt Lake was a beautiful city," she said.
In Utah, Hayes faced challenges. Dance was still under physical education, not arts, and she had to teach `corrective exercise' and other non-dance subjects.
"I inherited a motley crew in Orchesis, and I saw that it must be upgraded! I purposely made the technique sessions difficult, and those not yet ready for public performance gradually dropped out. At Christmas we danced `The Juggler of Notre Dame,' adapted from my Wisconsin days; a tearjerker, but it did have mostly simple and effective parts.
"My first spring concert with Orchesis at Kingsbury Hall initiated a successful three-part format _ a lecture demonstration, a series of four or five short dances, and a grandiose `epic,' which that first year was a generation gap sort of dance, `Age and Youth.' Although the boys in the crowd were set to jeer and throw pennies, they soon were clapping."
For this program, like all others for more than 15 years, Hayes set the theme and was responsible for the choreography, assisted by the students. She designed and made the costumes with student assistance until 1964, and danced in many of the early dances.
Since 1940 Hayes has spent only two years away from the dance department: 1944-45 teaching at Wisconsin ("they wanted me to stay") and 1947-48, when she was at Stanford for her doctor's degree. "I brought Joan (Jones) Woodbury on faculty in 1951 after she studied at Wisconsin, also Shirley (Russon) Ririe in 1955. Those were heavy years for them. In addition to their teaching, they had six children between them during the '50s!"
"All of us were overworked. We killed ourselves, but what we did would not otherwise have been created. We didn't have money, so we gave our time. Many years I felt that I had a load and a half of teaching. This modern obsession with compensation bothers me. People watch the clock now, and when their time is up they go home. We never dreamed of watching the clock.
"We were tired, we needed more money, we were not appreciated, but that didn't stop us. The faculty is still doing it here. Looking ahead, I don't think there will ever be sufficient material reward for dancers."
In 1944 came the dance teaching minor, and in 1948 a major. Teaching teachers was the main thrust until 1966, when dance moved from physical education to fine arts, and lost its authority to certify teachers. Hayes and Gordon Paxman, then chairman of the dance department, got the certification back by 1974. Meanwhile students had become more interested in professional dancing and becoming choreographers, so the program became three-pronged - teaching, performing and choreographing.
"All in all, the loss was probably good for us because it ultimately gave the students more options," said Hayes. "Also the people in theater and other arts understood our need for more courses, and we were soon able to establish an MFA in the College of Fine Arts."
During her time, Hayes has observed the development of two professional modern companies that sprang from roots in the University - the Repertory Dance Theatre, and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.
She also has the satisfaction of knowing that the modern dance department is rooted in H'Doubler's philosophy _ that everyone has the potential for creativity, and that dance helps them utilize that potential. Hayes cited Anne Riordan as a present-day representative of H'Doubler's philosophy. "Anne regularly has 60 people in her class, `Dance, a creative process'," she said.
"The technique may have changed, but the basic philosophy, that dance is an art experience to which everyone should be exposed, has not changed. Students should learn to love movement, and recognize its communicative possibilities.
"Today's emphasis of intellect and technique have made watching a dance performance a little like listening to the player piano. All the movement is there, the potential is there, but no soul. When I watch a dance class being taught, one thing I look at is the expression on students' faces. Is it a chore? Dance is bound to be a chore at times, but does it rise above being a chore, to the point where students have a sense of ecstasy in movement? In the performances I see, particularly in post-modern dance, I am very disturbed because that sense of ecstasy, of sharing with an audience, is missing.
In retrospect, Hayes sees herself as a link in a chain, part of a "wonderful and extremely talented faculty, who are working to reverse such trends _ not just giving our dancers technique," she said, "but helping them discover their own feelings and forms, which they will someday wish to share."