West Villager Sally Sommer Retires from Dance Program

Guests at Sally Sommer's Retirement Party at Casa La Femme on Dec 8 2019
Sally Sommer with her grandchildren Jack and Loie Sommer-Howitt and dancer friend Bravo Lafortune. Photo by Karen Rempel.

By Karen Rempel

Friends, colleagues, students, and family of Sally Sommer gathered at Casa La Femme on Charles Street yesterday to celebrate West Village resident Sally Sommer’s retirement from Florida State University’s Arts in NYC program. Casa La Femme’s Egyptian décor and delicious passed hors d’oeuvres created the perfect ambience for a celebration with professional dancers of all ages. In attendance was Vogue superstar Archie Burnett, seen in Sally’s video about underground house dancers in NYC in the 90s, Check Your Body at the Door.

Dr. Sally Sommer is widely considered to be a leading expert on dance in American popular culture. She is a dance historian, dance critic, and academic. She has taught at Florida State University (FSU) since 2001, designing the MA in American Dance Studies program. Sally founded the ARTS in NYC program in 2002. She also co-founded the International Tap Association in 1987, and helped bring the phenomenon of NYC-born house dancing to Europe. Sally is a long-time judge on the Bessie Awards committee, NYC’s dance and performance award-granting body.

Those of you living on West 10th Street are familiar with her famous stoop sales, during which students sold baked goods to raise money for the FSU program. Sally has contributed immeasurably to the community of dance in New York.

One of Sally’s students from the 2009 program, Maggie Cloud, said, “The ARTS in NYC Program was pivotal in my transition from student to professional dancer, as it is truly an insider’s guide to living and thriving artistically.”

Program participants are immersed in the arts and culture of the city. They attend classes, experiential activities, performances, and internships designed to develop their technical proficiency and business skills. Sally believes that dancers and artists need to learn the business side of the world in order to succeed in their careers, and she founded the program to help aspiring dancers do just that.

Post-graduation, 77% of program alumni remain active in the arts community, working as administrators, performers, and teachers while continuing to perform and make art. Sixty-eight percent of ARTS in NYC alumni from the last four years returned to the city to live and work.

In recognition of the years of service put in by FSU’s Dr. Sally Sommer and Dr. Tricia Henry Young to provide students with the opportunity to study and intern in the NYC professional arts world, the university has created the Sommer-Young Study HERE Fund in Dance.

The university is hoping to raise $5,000 for the fund in honor of Sally’s retirement, to support the School of Dance’s Study HERE programs—including Dance in NYC, now known as ARTS in NYC—which seek to immerse students in professional dance and arts communities in major metropolitan areas.

To donate to the fund, go to the Sommer-Young Study HERE Fund in Dance.

The fund is also named after Dr. Tricia Henry Young, a Professor Emerita of Dance History and the former Director of American Dance Studies program at Florida State University.

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