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 cross-sector field orientation to bear on her academic research, including over twenty years of experience working within the cultural economies of concert dance, theatre, musical theater, opera, K-12 education, health care, and Veterans’ Affairs. Sarah's 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 her 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] offers a critical cultural history of institution building and belonging within the NEA Dance Program. Early rehearsals of the ideas presented in this work appear in TDR/The Drama Review (2017), The Oxford Handbook on Dance and Competition (2018), and The Futures of Dance Studies edited collection (2020, University of Wisconsin Press). A book that asks the choreographic question: how has the movement of philanthropic capital motivated the movement of dance organizers across the last five decades, Funding Bodies is under contract with Wesleyan University Press.

In addition to historical work on institutional endowment in dance and the arts, Sarah also contributes ethnographic analyses of local arts workers and work worlds. Such work 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 also reviewed scholarly work on dance and performance in e-misférica, and Dance Research Journal.

Beyond Duke and Durham, Sarah also teaches graduate courses on arts labor and production strategies as a guest faculty member in the low residency MA program at Wesleyan University's Institute for Curatorial and Performance Practice (ICPP).  At Wesleyan Sarah also serves as a co-PI working on a set of ethnographic and economic case studies commissioned by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation tracking economic drivers and social, cultural, and institutional infrastructures that subtend the working lives and livelihoods of contemporary artists working principally in live performance.

Her second book project, currently under development, undertakes ethnographic case studies of local dance and arts work-worlds in secondary and tertiary US communities while taking institutionally-incentivized affordances and constraints of arts work centrally into account.

Prior to landing at Duke, Sarah was the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies and the Humanities at Brown University (2016-2018), where she developed coursework for undergraduate and graduate students that centralized dance as a vital topic, theory, and method of knowledge production germane to broader debates on power and embodiment in the humanities. 

She holds a terminal degree in dance practice (M.F.A., dance) and research (Ph.D., culture and performance studies) from the the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA.

She also sweats more than most humans.

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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