University of Houston Department of Dance Welcomes New Leadership: Teresa Chapman Steps into Dream Job

Photo by Lynn Lane

In 2005 when Teresa Chapman was concluding an impressive performance contract with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in Tacoma Park, Maryland, she was invited to interview for a dance faculty position at the University of Houston. She walked into the office of the Director of the School of Theater, and a student was asleep on the couch. She was sold — the warm, supportive, and family-like department already felt like home. She immediately noticed the faculty’s respect for Karen Stokes, the director of the dance program. “I knew I could learn from her,” and Chapman served as Associate Professor under Stokes for 18 years.

Stokes built a strong and vibrant department for 25 years, recognized nationally for providing their graduates with dance production and administrative skills, competencies that are dependably hirable in the dance field. In 2020, the pandemic brought shifts and questions for the dance field.  Even more internal changes were coming, including the retirements of department leaders Stokes and Rebecca Valle. Chapman confesses, “I’m a really good right-hand woman.” But as she pondered what might happen to the department if someone from outside of the university took the helm, she quickly realized how clearly her vision for the department had developed. “I called the Dean and said, “Yes, I’ll take the job.” 

Chapman reports that her step into leadership after Stokes retired felt like a natural transition. Because she was already so rooted in the department, Chapman could immediately begin responding to the COVID-instigated changes and find new ways to support the success of the students. After some deep analysis, she and the faculty decided to diversify their curriculum and center cultural styles of dance. They hired new faculty. Student interest increased. “We doubled our enrollment of dance majors this fall,” Chapman reports.

Chapman explains that in the post-COVID era, managing stress has been a major challenge for students.  Chapman practically and tactically advises her students to “be entrepreneurs and independent thinkers.  I’ve always said, ‘while you can’t always make a living as a dancer, you can make a living in dance.’  If you can find a way to put your passion for dance with other skills, you can create your dream job.’”

The Dance Program at the University of Houston offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance, a Bachelor of Arts in Dance, a Dance Minor, and approved curriculum for Teaching Certification in Secondary Education in Dance. UH Dance alumni teach in high schools across the state. The program focuses on creating well-rounded and hirable dance graduates. “I’ve witnessed many of our dancers succeed post-graduation, whether it be teaching in the high schools, working production for professional companies, costume design, videography for dance, arts administration, choreographing and producing their own work, and dancing professionally.”

Stokes laid a strong foundation for community and collaboration within the program. Chapman confirms, “We have students who are learning the importance of supporting each other,” a radical concept in an often toxically competitive field. Chapman says, “The excitement and energy in our program today are palpable.”

Chapman identifies tenacity, discipline, and creativity as the keys to success for her students, she wants to instill in them that “success is something you must define for yourself.”

Chapman’s hopes are bright, and her vision attuned for the future of the department. “It is possible to change the world one dance at a time. This is truly my dream job.” 

About the Author

Lydia Hance is a choreographer, filmmaker, collaborator, and educator. Lydia Hance is the Founder and Artistic Director of Frame Dance Productions, a contemporary dance company making collaborative works for the screen and stage.

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  1. Rivkah French says:

    Teresa Chapman’s talent and expertise are equally matched by her warmth and generosity. What a great choice to fill the UH Dance Director position!

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