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Dance Pioneer Remembered

Christena Schlundt, Founding Faculty at UC Riverside, Dies at 82

Dance Historian Pioneered Graduate Programs in Dance at UC Riverside

(September 27, 2004)

Christena SchlundtEnlarge

Christena Schlundt

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- Professor Emerita Christena Lindborg Schlundt, a dance historian who established UC Riverside as a nationally recognized center for the study of dance history and theory, died Wednesday, Sept. 22. She was 82.

Born in Indiana, she joined UC Riverside in 1953 as one of the first teachers at the fledging Riverside campus. Originally an acting assistant professor of the Department of Physical Education, which she chaired in the mid-1960s, she designed her first dance class for just four students. She spent her entire career as one of the campus’ shaping influences.

In 1972 she served the first of several terms as the chair of the Department of Dance. At one point, she served as an Associate Dean in what is now the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. She established the nation’s first Masters program in dance history in 1982, and a decade later, the first Ph.D. in dance history and theory in the nation. She retired in 1991, but remained active on campus.

Because of Professor Schlundt’s leadership, dance history faculty and graduate students have illuminated the cultural significance of dance-- its aesthetic and its political dimensions, the ways it construed class, gender, identity, and more. “You can’t pursue dance research without considering all the things that go on around it,” said Schlundt in one campus interview.

She earned the Distinguished Teaching Award in 1981, one of the highest accolades that can be bestowed by the UCR Academic Senate. She was cited for serving students as “inspiration, guide, teacher, friend.”

“Repeatedly they (students) express a triad of admiration, gratitude and love — admiration for her knowledge and her exacting standards, gratitude for teaching so effectively, and love for what she has meant in their lives,” the citation adds.

Prior to UC Riverside, she taught at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and Wayne State University in Detroit. She received her bachelor’s degree in English From Augustana College and her Masters of Education from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Her Ph.D. in American History is from Claremont Graduate School.

Professor Schlundt’s research interest centered on the American pioneers of modern dance, first Ruth St. Denis, with whom she consulted while conducting her research, and then Ted Shawn, Helen Tamiris, Doris Humphrey, Jerome Robbins, and Daniel Nagrin. “Chronicling the performance careers of these figures -- how they changed and how they persisted -- Christena brought to bear a rigorous methodology and also a writing style that made their physicality as movers vivid and immediate,” said Dr. Linda Tomko, faculty member in UCR’s Department of Dance.

Schlundt's lasting legacy at UC Riverside is noted in the 190-foot mural painted on the Highway 60 underpass at the University Avenue entrance to campus, which includes an image of Professor Schlundt, leaning against a tree. That particular pose of the notoriously camera-shy professor emerita was one of her family’s favorites. When the UCR Department of Dance inaugurated its Center for Studies of Body, Performance and Dance, it named its annual Lecture Series in her honor.

Schlundt is survived by her husband Howard Schlundt, her daughters Carolyn Melka and Ellen Woolfson, their spouses John Melka and Greg Woolfson, grandchildren Amanda and Kenda Woolfson, and her sister and brother, Edithellen (Lindy) Marshall and John Lindborg.

A commemorative service is planned for 3 p.m. Wednesday October 6, 2004 at the First Congregational Church, 3755 Lemon Street, Riverside. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, 40 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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