Chair of dance department to retire

Nancy Dickson-Lewis will be retiring at the end of the semester after working at Chapman for 30 years. Photo by Madeleine Caraluzzi.

Nancy Dickson-Lewis will be retiring at the end of the semester after working at Chapman for 30 years. Photo by Madeleine Caraluzzi

When it comes to the reason Nancy Dickson-Lewis, chair of the Department of Dance, decided to retire at the end of this semester, there is a short story and a long story.

The short story: Dickson-Lewis has taught at Chapman for 30 years. Plus, she will have more flexibility to visit her two daughters, one in Atlanta and the other in Oklahoma City.

“I haven’t had a semester off since my second daughter’s birth 28 years ago,” Dickson-Lewis said. “It will be nice to read a book just for fun.”

The long story isn’t as simple.

Dickson-Lewis has had breast cancer since 2009. In January, it spread to her spine. Due to health reasons, Dickson-Lewis said she will take her retirement one day at a time.

“I get my blood drawn one or two times a week, so I can’t travel as much as I like,” Dickson-Lewis said.

If she is approved for travel, she would be allowed seven days, which would still allow for visits to her two daughters, Dickson-Lewis said.

It will be a change of pace from her schedule at Chapman, where she is a full-time faculty member, stays late to work on dance rehearsals and takes eight weekends a year to audition more than 300 students for the dance program.

“There are so many things around my house I’ve wanted to do for years,” Dickson-Lewis said.
She is excited to have the time to cook dinner, as well as put more research into her genealogy.

Dickson-Lewis started as an adjunct professor in 1986, when there was no official dance department. At the time, the dance classes were part of the communication studies program. The Department of Dance is now part of the College of Performing Arts.

“There has been a huge arc to my career here at Chapman,” Dickson-Lewis said.

Chapman’s dance program is now accredited and highly competitive. With the addition of the Partridge Dance Center in 2002 and the recent completion of the Musco Center for the Arts, the department continues to grow.

“It’s a well-oiled machine here,” Dickson-Lewis said. “It’s in a really good shape. It’s not a bad time to leave.”

A senior faculty member with performance and administrative experience from a different university will replace Dickson-Lewis. The new chair’s name cannot be released until he or she undergoes a background check.

“We train dancers to go in the direction they want to go in and nurture their talents and interests to find their strengths,” Dickson-Lewis said. “The new chair is aligned with that.”

Dickson-Lewis taught for seven years at Golden West College in Huntington Beach before coming to Chapman to teach classes such as choreography and dance history.

“(Dickson-Lewis) is the most kind, caring, honest and wise person and those characteristics reflect directly how she is as a professor,” said Cristina McKeever, a junior dance performance major. “Her door is always open and she does everything she can to help us dance students administratively, choreographically and personally.”

Junior mathematics and dance major Carolyn Oliver agreed.

“She is such a nurturing soul who put a lot of herself into the department,” Oliver said. “She was a joy to work with and loved by everyone. I know every dance major will miss her greatly.”

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