Sarah Marie Wilbur
Assistant Professor Of The Practice of Dance

Sarah Wilbur (Assistant Professor of the Practice/Dance) is a cross-sector choreographer and dance/performance researcher who studies artistic labor, identity and institutionalization, currently in a US context. She brings a strong field orientation to bear on her academic research, including over twenty years of field experience working across the cultural economies of concert dance, theatre, musical theater, opera, K-12 education, health care, and Veterans’ Affairs. Both her creative and scholarly research and teaching recognize the parity between dances that are performed and the aspects of dance making that are suppressed or ignored. It is Sarah’s primary goal to highlight dance’s under-recognized labor and laborers in all facets of her professional work.

Sarah’s current manuscript, entitled Funding Bodies: Five Decades of Dance "Making" at the National Endowment for the Arts [1965-2016] offers a critical cultural history of institution building and belonging inside of the Dance Program embedded in the lone arts philanthropic arm of the US federal government. Early articulations of her work on NEA dance recognition and resourcing appear in the The Oxford Handbook on Dance and Competition, and The Futures of Dance Studies edited collection (University of Wisconsin Press). A book that asks the choreographic question: how does the movement of capital motivate the movement of dance organizers within the context of federal arts subsidies, Funding Bodies is currently under contract with Wesleyan University Press.

In addition to her historical work on arts institutions and economies, Sarah also conducts ethnographic analyses of local dance and arts labor and laborers. Her writing on local arts practice and economy appears in Performance Research, TDR/The Drama Review, The Journal of Emerging Dance Scholarship, and Arts & Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice. 

She has reviewed scholarly work on dance and performance in e-misférica, and Dance Research Journal.

Sarah's work on arts institutions, labor, and laborers extends beyond the confines of Duke and Durham, most recently through her work as a guest faculty member and research advisor at Wesleyan University's Institute for Curatorial and Performance Practice (ICPP). At Wesleyan, Sarah currently teaches graduate courses on arts support for the low residency MA program in curatorial practice and serves as co-investigator on a series of qualitative studies articulating the zig-zag career trajectories and culturally specific challenges of artists working in live performance supported by the Doris Duke Foundation.

Prior to landing at Duke, Sarah served as the final Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies and the Humanities at Brown University (2016-2018), where she developed coursework for undergraduate and graduate students highlighting dance as a vital topic, theory, and method of knowledge production across areas of humanistic inquiry. 

She did her graduate research in dance practice (M.F.A./dance) and culture and performance studies (Ph.D.) at UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, where she relished the privilege of teaching dance and embodied culture in a global city that was (and is) an incomparable syllabus on the topic of making dance work. Sarah is deeply committed to North Carolina's vibrant movement worlds and happy to join Duke as the most recent faculty member in Dance.

Education & Training

Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles (culture and performance studies)
M.F.A., University of California, Los Angeles (dance)
B.F.A., University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (dance)

Current Research Interests

Academic research interests: dance, culture, and performance studies, choreography and performance, U.S. arts policy/philanthropy, institutional ethnography, social and political theory, critical arts pedagogy, theories of practice, institutionality, and corporeality.

Artistic research interests: intergenerational performance (concert dance iterations), dance theatre, musical theatre, opera, physical theatre, dance in K-12 education, and integrative dance and health.

I come to Duke by way of Los Angeles (2007-2016), where I earned terminal degrees in dance practice (M.F.A.) and culture and performance studies (Ph.D.) at UCLA. I am originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and spent the first decade of my career as a co-founder and artistic director for a contemporary dance collective. I also oversaw production operations for an umbrella nonprofit dance organization ( while working regularly across the institutional contexts of theatre, musical theatre/opera, tv/film, K-12 education, health care, and most recently, veterans' affairs. I say all this to say that I approach the study of institutional policies and local practices as an artist who inherited a sea-change in US arts funding ill-prepared to circumnavigate or historically situate the effects of this inheritance. At Duke, my goal as an educator and researcher-artist is to support graduate and undergraduate artists and arts intermediaries (they are innumerable) in properly situating their work within  political economic, sociocultural, and corporeal realities that they confront, daily.

Duke's investment in interdisciplinary research and teaching and the new MFA in Dance (Interdisciplinary Embodied Praxis) that will launch in my home Department in Fall of 2019 serve as ideal institutional platforms for me to pursue these goals as an arts practitioner and dance/performance scholar.

You can find more on my artistic research and portfolio here:

Office Hours

Spring 2019 11am-1pm and by appointment.
Rubenstein Arts Center
2020 Campus Drive

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Contact Information

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