Sarah Marie Wilbur
Assistant Professor of the Practice of Dance

Sarah Wilbur (Assistant Professor of the Practice in Dance, Director of Graduate Studies) is a cross-sector choreographer and performance researcher who studies arts labor, economies, and institutional support, principally in a US context. Her choreography, research and teaching together recognize parity between dances that are performed and the aspects of dance making that are suppressed or ignored.

Sarah brings a strong field orientation to bear on her academic research, including over twenty years of experience working as a choreographer, educator, and performer across the dance production contexts of concert dance, theatre, musical theater, opera, K-12 education, social and aging services, health care and Veterans’ Affairs. After serving during the 2020-2021 school year as the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Duke Dance Program, she was recently appointed the Director of Graduate Studies in Dance, where she oversees the new (est. 2019) MFA degree program in Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis (EIP).

As an artist-scholar, Sarah's forthcoming manuscript, Funding Bodies: Five Decades of Dance Making at the National Endowment for the Arts offers the first book-length look at the shaping influence of federal arts funding policies on the practical and aesthetic labor of three generations of US dance organizers. A text that positions dance as both topic and method, Funding Bodies departs from the choreographic question: How has the movement of arts philanthropic capital motivated the movement of dance artists from 1965-2016? Ideas from this monograph have previously appeared in print in TDR/The Drama Review (2017) and The Oxford Handbook on Dance and Competition (2018). Funding Bodies is forthcoming (October 2021) from Wesleyan University Press.  

In addition to Sarah's research on institutional power, policy, and participation in the arts, she also undertakes ethnographic analyses of local arts work and workworlds. Such writing 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). Sarah second 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.

During the 2021-2022 academic year, Sarah is convening a cross-campus, cross-disciplinary consortium of arts and humanities researchers with parallel investments in localizing, regionalizing and particularizing arts labor in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic aftershocks. The Cross-Campus Consortium on Equitable US Arts Infrastructures Working Group is generously supported by Duke's John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute for the 2021-2022 academic year.

At Duke, Sarah teaches studio courses in creative practice and process including: dance improvisation, interdisciplinary performance, and modern dance. She also offers hybrid practice/seminar that explore theories of dance, performance, and the body. Her seminar courses on arts labor, pedagogy, and infrastructural issues in the arts often integrate field and community based engagement through Duke Service Learning. Her undergraduate course about the complex collaborations between artists and health professionals was met by robust interest among Duke's booming pre-med student population. Last summer (2021), she served as Principal Investigator for a Story+ public humanities research team that built messages of cultural inclusion through art alongside local elder abuse activists at Dementia Inclusive Durham ( Sarah regularly advises graduate students in dance and undergraduate dance and non-dance students seeking to integrate arts practice into non-arts fields with regularity through the Dance Major/Minor and Duke's Program II.

Beyond Duke and Durham, Sarah has served as a guest faculty member in the Institute for Curatorial and Performance Practice (ICPP) at Wesleyan University since 2017, where she teaches graduate courses on arts labor and entrepreneurial strategies and mentors student-curators and artists on masters' theses and related research. Sarah also serves as a co-PI for an exploratory study commissioned by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation also at Wesleyan, a project that tracks how artists from divergent sociocultural backgrounds circumnavigate economic drivers and institutionalized "norms" of curation and live performance in the US.

Prior to landing at Duke, Sarah was the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies and the Humanities at Brown University (2016-2018). She holds terminal degrees in dance practice (MFA) and culture and performance studies (PH.D.) from the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at the University of California, Los Angeles and a B.F.A. in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, an institution housed in her own hometown.

Prior to pursuing graduate work in dance, Sarah served as the co-founder (1997) and Artistic Director (1997-2007) of a performance collective and multigenerational dance nonprofit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (, where she received a robust "trade school" education on institutional hierarchies in the arts and dominant (stubborn) patterns of dance recognition and resourcing. Her current arts labor activism is focused on leveraging the university-as-arts-infrastructure by supporting arts practice with checkered and lopsided patterns of over- and under- endowment in the arts foregrounded.

The above mentioned field and scholarly investigations together fuel Sarah's primary goal, to highlight under-recognized arts labor and laborers in all facets of her professional work. 

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, cultural studies, and performance studies, choreography and performance, U.S. arts labor, policy, and philanthropy, ethnography, social and political theory, critical arts pedagogy, theories of practice, institutionality, and corporeality.

Creative research interests: devised intergenerational performance, contemporary concert dance, dance theatre, musical theatre, opera, and participatory dance making across the contexts of K-12 education, social services, aging services, and healthcare.

Office Hours

By appointment.
Rubenstein Arts Center
2020 Campus Drive #209F
Please email [ ] to schedule.

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Contact Information

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