Student body bolsters arts initiative

The 1899 Stanford yearbook documents the existence of the Associated Students of Stanford University, or ASSU, as an official student organization, though a looser governmental group known as the Student Body started several year prior. Today the ASSU subsidizes over five hundred volunteer student organizations which enrich the cultural, political, recreational and religious life of Stanford students. Where student-run arts groups are concerned, ASSU, along with its later offshoots OSA (Office for Student Activity), SAL (Student Activities and Leadership), and SOCA (Student Organizing Committee for the Arts), acts as a vehicle for the realization of student initiative.  Moreover, the Student Arts Grant Board (established in 2003 and now a part of the Stanford Arts Institute) provides monetary support for students in the arts.  The Stanford Fund for Undergraduate Education encourages alumni, parents, and friends to help subsidize student scholarships and support for over one hundred student organizations. 

Orchesis dancers - 1941

Orchesis dancers, 1941. Stanford Historical Photograph Collection


Stanford’s student-organized arts collectives, whether ephemeral or perduring, showcase the diverse and creative spectrum of artistic activity throughout the generations. Past and present organizations include the following: Mendicants Sing; Baroque Dance Club, Asian American Theater Project, Balkan Folk Dance Club, Ballet Folklorico de Stanford, Chinese Folk Dance at Stanford, Chinese Calligraphy Club, Kuumba Arts Ensemble, Kuumba Dance Ensemble, Ram’s Head Theatrical Society, Stanford Ballroom Dance Club, Stanford Black Music Association, Stanford Court Jugglers, Hot Jazz Society, Stanford Fleet Street Singers, Stanford Folk Dancers, Stanford Folk Music Club, Stanford Friends of the Organ, Stanford Glee Club, Stanford Jazz Club, Stanford Scottish Country Dancers, Stanford Square Dance Club, Stanford University Gospel Choir, Stanford University Photography Club, Stanford Actors Project, Tuesday Films, Stanford Hot Jazz Society, Undergraduate Lights Project, Stanford Mandolin Club, Viennese Ball Committee, Stanford Film Society, Asian American Activities Center, Imani Productions, Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band, Masters of Ballroom Arts, Mixed Company; Stanford A Cappella Traveling Balladeers, Stanford Dance Collective, Stanford Savoyards, Stanford Synchronized Swim Club, Stanford Symphony Orchestra, Children’s Theater Workshop, Theater Guild, Jazz Core, and Down with Gravity (a juggling collective).

GA Kaufman caricature, 1895 quad

Caricature of Adolph Gustave Kaufman, mandolin and trombone player, 1895 Quad


Since at least the 1930s, ASSU has sponsored an annual concert series. These concerts have brought outstanding musicians, composers, and dancers directly to the campus auditoriums. Don Cossacks Choir (1939), Kingston Trio (co-sponsored by class of 1961, 1958), Gregor Piatigorsky (1956), Stan Kenton (1956), Joseph Szigetti (1956), Dave Brubeck (co-sponsored by Stanford Relief Fund, 1956), dancers/defectors Nora Kovach and Istvan Rabovsky (1957), Theodor Uppman (1958), Zino Francescatti (1958), Cesare Valletti (1959), Moscow Chamber Orchestra (1963), Robert Joffrey Ballet (1964), Jerome Hines (1964), and American Ballet Theatre (1967), to name a few. Following Artur Rubenstein’s concert in 1943, Les Krupp, the head of student police, reported that “the artist was very well accepted by the audience, and played some five or six encores.” And the 1948 performance of the Slavenska Ballet met with this review, courtesy of Nat Watkins, head of student police: “Pretty good ballet – if you like ballet. The Madame Mia Slavenska had a replacement who took over most of her part, and I’m told she showed the audience how the madame would like to do it.”

Women’s Mandolin Club, c. late 1890s, one of the many organizations that receive financial and administrative support from ASSU. Stanford Historical Photograph Collection


As the roster of student dance organizations attests, social dance at Stanford has enjoyed a constant presence. The more technique-driven dance groups rehearsed regularly, as specified by a 1952 ASSU activity book: “Orchesis [i.e. a student-run modern dance troupe] is a dancing group for girls with the talent and will to dance. It is operated in conjunction with a one unit dance class and offers experience in semi-professional dancing. Dance concerts are performed, and they participate in Master lessons and symposia. New members must have had one quarter of modern dance at Stanford.” The Village Folk Dancers, a less professionally-driven group, required no previous experience, and urged dancers to “come stag or drag to the meetings.”  Working with professional choreographers, dance historians, and dance legends, Swingtime, Stanford’s premiere swing dance troupe, has been recreating swing-era dances and integrating current trends since 2002.  A more fledgling swing dance collective, Swing Kids, offers dance lessons to the Stanford community.

Military Ball invite

Invitation pledge card, 1933 Military Ball


Historically speaking, the most prolix dance activity has transpired in the form of social dance. Perhaps facilitated by the student body’s co-educational constitution, dances that demand partners have peppered student life since the university’s inception. Student dances recorded in the University Archives convey a sense of the colorful social dance activity on campus: Jolly-Up, Pajamarino, Masque Ball, Military Ball, Soldier Dance, Sophomore Cotillion, Junior Prom, Big Game Dance, Cap and Gown Dance, Corduroy Ball, Engineer’s Dance, Student’s Relief Dance, Back to the Farm Dance, Sadie Hawkins Dance, Registration Dance, Glee Club Dance, Codfish Ball, Village Ball, Viennese Ball, Law Association Dance, Shipwreck Dance, Dixieland Dance, Chinese Students Club Coronation Ball, George Washington Dance, Sophomore Jamboree, School of Business Dance, Beaux Arts Ball, Barn Dance, Hat Dance, Red Cross Benefit Street Dance, Pan-Hellenic Street Dance, Winter Whirl, Freshmen Street Dance, Snow Ball Dance, etc. In response to the Sadie Hawkins Dance on February 13, 1943, the student police report submitted by Head Cop Les Krupp captures some of the vertiginous fervor he observed on the dance floor: “Incidentally – one girl passed out during the conga number. She was taken to Roble and cared for. It was a case of ‘just too much.’” However, the only chronic complaint about these dances seems to have been the apparent lack of women.

Featured image: ASSU members pictured in the Stanford Quad, 1899