As a 10-year-old, UI junior Christine Atty danced in the Nutcracker alongside the world-renowned Joffrey Ballet in Hancher Auditorium. The late Linda Crist prepared Atty and 15 other girls for their parts as toy soldiers.
Nine years later, Crist re-entered Atty's life. After debating whether to pursue a dance major, Atty e-mailed Crist for advice. At the end of the letter, she asked if Crist remembered her.
"She recognized me," Atty said. "I'll never forget that, and when I heard she passed away, my heart just dropped. She was such an amazing person."
That feeling has been repeated throughout the UI dance department over the last six months. The department has experienced three professor's deaths in that time, and it is now looking toward the future, while keeping in mind the legacies of its late colleagues and professors.
"With a department that small and close, losing three faculty members is like losing half your family," said Linda Maxson, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "But we've hired a very exciting, diverse group of new faculty members. We'll be back up to full strength in the fall."
Former department Chairman David Berkey died Oct. 31, 2004. Just days later, on Nov. 2, Professor Basil Thompson died unexpectedly. Most recently, the dance department lost Professor Emeritus Crist on March 8.
Rebekah Kowal, an assistant dance professor, said the dance program is dealing with the deaths gracefully.
"Our future's not in jeopardy," she said. "The interesting thing is that we've been passing the torch. Everybody is very cognizant of the legacy of those who have left the department, but we're looking toward the future."
Crist and Thompson were teaching classes at the UI when they died. Berkey, who taught at the UI for 19 years, was teaching at the University of Arizona at the time of his death.
Jory Hancock, the head of the University of Arizona's dance division and a former UI dance guest professor, said he was ecstatic when Berkey agreed to come to Arizona. But soon after his arrival, Berkey found out he had liver cancer. Hancock said Berkey's selflessness and inner strength continue to amaze him today.
"David wrote a quote for his last piece that said, 'To discover a unicorn is to find everlasting hope and beauty,' " Hancock said. "We feel like having him [at Arizona] was like discovering a unicorn - it was as rare as that."
Arizona's program has not hired a replacement for Berkey. The UI's department hired four new faculty members for fall 2005 to fill the gap left by the deceased professors, an unusually high number for any department to hire in one year, said dance department Chairman Alan Sener.
Professors and students are mourning the loses, he said, but with the department running at full-faculty capacity next fall, he feels prepared for the future.
"The Department of Dance has been faced with ensuring that we pay tribute and honor the contributions that these esteemed colleagues have made," he said. "The transition has been extraordinarily challenging and I believe unprecedented. I feel qualified after this experience to chair any dance department in this country."
Having seen Orgazmo really makes it hard for me to take this guy's tragic death as seriously as I should.