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 interim 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).

Sarah's recent monograph, 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 economic and institutional capital motivated the movement of dance artists? 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 was released in October 2021 by 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). Her 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. 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. This study and an accompanying website will be released in January 2022.

During the 2021-2022 academic year, Sarah is the lead convener of a cross-campus, cross-disciplinary consortium of arts and humanities researchers through the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. All nine colleagues hold parallel investments in localizing, regionalizing and particularizing arts labor in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic aftershocks. This esteemed group of arts labor and policy researchers look forward to gathering live in April 2022 to debate how to build robust and equitable support systems for artists in communities and universities across the United States.

At Duke, Sarah teaches studio courses for undergraduates and graduates in creative practice and process including: dance improvisation, interdisciplinary performance, and modern dance. She also offers hybrid practice/seminar course offerings that explore theories of dance, performance, and the body. Sarah's topics seminars and lecture courses on arts labor, institutions, and infrastructures often integrate field and community based engagement. Dance 561S: Art as Work: Valuing Labor in the Arts and Dance 371SL Artists in Healthcare: Collaborations and Complexities exemplify her field-facing ethos and approach.  

As a mentor, 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, she proudly mentors doctoral and masters' students in the realms of curatorial practice and performance and creative industries, and remains inspired for the future of arts support, as a result of these collaborations.

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.  

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.

Prior to pursuing advanced research 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 (www.danceworksmke.org), where she received a robust "trade school" education on institutional hierarchies in the arts and dominant (stubborn) patterns of dance recognition and resourcing. 

Together, 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. 

Sarah 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 [ sarah.wilbur@duke.edu ] to schedule.


Current Appointments & Affiliations

Contact Information

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