Sarah Marie Wilbur
Assistant Professor Of The Practice of Dance

Sarah Wilbur (Assistant Professor of the Practice/Dance) is a cross-sector choreographer and performance researcher who studies arts labor, economies, and institutional support principally in a US context.

She brings a strong field orientation to bear on her academic research, including over twenty years of experience working across the uneven economies of concert dance, theatre, musical theater, opera, K-12 education, health care, and Veterans’ Affairs.

Sarah's research and teaching together 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 under-recognized labor and laborers in the arts in all facets of her professional work.

Sarah’s current manuscript, Funding Bodies: Five Decades of Dance "Making" at the National Endowment for the Arts [1965-2016] asks the choreographic question: How has the movement of philanthropic capital motivated the movement of dance organizers across the last five decades? Ideas from this monograph currently appear in TDR/The Drama Review (2017), and The Oxford Handbook on Dance and Competition (2018). Funding Bodies is under contract with Wesleyan University Press.

In addition to her work on institutional endowment in dance and across the arts, Sarah also contributes ethnographic analyses of local arts work and work worlds. Such writing currently appears in the Journal of Emerging Dance Scholarship (2013), Performance Research (2015), TDR/The Drama Review (2016), and the Futures of Dance Studies collection (2020).

Beyond Duke and Durham, Sarah also teaches graduate courses on arts labor and production as a guest faculty member in the low residency graduate program, the Institute for Curatorial and Performance Practice (ICPP) at Wesleyan University. Adjacent to this teaching, Sarah also presently serves as a co-PI for an exploratory study commissioned by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation that tracks how artists circumnavigate economic drivers and institutionalized "norms" across various genres of performance.

Sarah next book project in development catalogues the collective labor at play in local dance work and work-worlds in secondary and off-center US communities and towns.

Prior to landing at Duke, Sarah served as the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies and the Humanities at Brown University (2016-2018).

She also sweats more than most humans. 

Education & Training

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

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

By appointment.
Rubenstein Arts Center
2020 Campus Drive #209F

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Contact Information

Some information on this profile has been compiled automatically from Duke databases and external sources. (Our About page explains how this works.) If you see a problem with the information, please write to Scholars@Duke and let us know. We will reply promptly.