UW–Madison’s Brennan, professor emerita and influential supporter of dance, dies

Mary Alice “Buff” Brennan, a longtime UW–Madison faculty member who dedicated her career to supporting and encouraging dance students, died on April 8, 2022.

Brennan was a professor emerita in the School of Education’s Dance Department, where she was on the faculty from 1967 until her retirement in 2002.

Buff Brennan teaching a class on campus in the early 1980s.Through her years at UW–Madison she chaired the dance program on three separate occasions. One of her responsibilities while serving as chair was to award scholarships.

“I really saw, especially around scholarships, the work students had to go through to earn their degrees,” said Brennan, who went on to support four scholarship programs in the Dance Department.

In addition to teaching and working in the Dance Department, Brennan also co-wrote a biography of Margaret H’Doubler, who in 1926 was the driving force behind UW–Madison becoming the first university to offer a degree program in dance. The book, published in 2007, is titled, “Margaret H’Doubler: The Legacy of America’s Dance Education Pioneer.”

Prior to joining the UW–Madison faculty, Brennan earned both a master of science and a PhD in dance at UW–Madison. She also was certified in movement analysis through the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies in New York in 1983.

Brennan’s obituary notes that her scholarly articles on creativity in dance and the movement analysis of dance have appeared in numerous journals, such as the Journal of Creative Behavior, the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, and Perceptual Motor Skills. In 1985 she was named the National Dance Association Scholar, and she was twice a Fulbright Scholar to India.

Brennan also was a prolific contributor to the growth of dance as a field, according to her obituary. She reviewed grants for the Wisconsin Arts Board for five years, was on the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, and the National Commission on National Dance Education Standards. She consulted on dance curriculum guidelines for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. She was president of the Board of Directors of the Hancock Center for Dance/Movement Therapy from 2010 to 2013. She received the National Dance Association Presidential Award for Service in 1993, the Wisconsin Dance Council Research and Journalism Award in 1996, and the National Dance Association Award for Contributions to the Field of Dance Technology in 1999.

“Buff was absolutely integral to the Dance Department,” says Andrea Harris, an associate professor and chair of the Dance Department. “In her rich career as professor, department chair, and scholar, she was one of our most profound connections to our historic past. Now, through her generous donations, Buff is a huge part of our momentum and vision for the future. She is deeply missed, but her legacy will always be with us.”

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