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Lynnette Overby (foreground) leads a rehearsal in UD’s
dance studio of “Dave the Potter,” a multidisciplinary
performance project that premiered at UD in 2014, with Overby as the art
director and choreographer.
Young Overby’s career has included work as a grade-school physical
education teacher, doctoral student, college professor, author,
researcher, national advocate for arts education, choreographer,
performer and mentor to numerous students and young faculty members.
“Advocacy is very important to me, and so are mentoring and teaching,
research and service,” said Overby, professor of theatre and dance at
the University of Delaware.
“But at the center of everything has always been dance.”
Overby’s prolific and wide-ranging career is being formally recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO), which is honoring her at its national conference on Friday, Oct. 5.
Growing up in Dover, Delaware, Overby began piano lessons at age 5,
but when a new dance school opened several years later, she pleaded with
her mother to let her take classes there.
Learning to dance at age 12
made for a late start compared to many youngsters, but Overby loved it
and never looked back.
“And I think my training in music actually helped me,” she said. “So
much of what you do as a dancer is precisely timed to the music.”
In high school in the late 1960s,
Overby and other African American students in their newly integrated
school were exposed to taunts and negative comments from many of their
classmates. But a new teacher started an after-school dance class, and
Overby felt at home there.
“It was a challenging year,” she said. “There were some ugly
incidents, and we felt isolated a lot of the time. For me, dance class
was always a respite from all of that.”
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Prof. Lynnette Overby is the author, co-author or co-editor of more than 40 publications, including 12 books.
Overby went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in physical education from
Hampton Institute and a master’s degree in dance education from George
Washington University. She taught in the Washington, D.C., public
schools and conducted research there, finding that children developed
reading and comprehension skills more successfully when their
traditional classroom learning was supplemented with creative movement.
“Movement is a form of communication,” Overby said. “And dance isn’t something that’s elite. It’s for everyone.”
She moved into teaching and administrative positions in higher
education and earned her doctorate in kinesiology at the University of
Maryland. In 2008, she left Michigan State University to join the UD
faculty, as founding faculty director of the Office of Undergraduate
Research and Experiential Learning.
Overby is founding director of the dance minor program and deputy director of the University’s Community Engagement Initiative.
She continues to publish — the UD Library, Museums and Press is
preparing to publish her online book, Dance: Current Selected Research,
Volume 9 — choreograph and perform.
And, of course, she continues to teach dance classes. In the capstone
course for the dance minor, she said, her primary goal is to make the
program truly interdisciplinary.
Students have a wide variety of majors and career goals, and Overby
wants to help them continue to be involved in dancing. Each student in
the capstone class creates a final project that combines his or her
major field of study with the discipline of dance.
“I tell them: You’ve been dancing since you were 2, but now you’re
going to be [for example] a chemist,” she said. “How are you going to
keep dance in your life?”
Overby helped write national Common Core standards for arts education
and she said she’s passionate about advocating for everyone to have
access to the arts. She also continues to work on collaborative
arts-based research projects at UD and to mentor students and young
faculty members. She serves as a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist and
conducts workshops with teachers in several states.
Overby will speak after receiving the award at the National Dance Education Organization conference in San Diego.
Her family, including her 4-month-old grandson and her 100-year-old
mother, will be in the audience, along with colleagues, students and
“I’m very honored to receive this award,” Overby said recently. “I haven’t
decided what I’m going to say, but I know that I want everyone who’s
important to me to share the moment.”
In nominating Overby for the Lifetime Achievement Award, Anne Dunkin,
a dance education literature and research coordinator with NDEO, noted
that the organization also honored Overby in 2004 with its Outstanding
“It is now time to award NDEO’s most prestigious award for lifetime
achievement to one of our most stellar professionals in dance
education,” Dunkin said.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson