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Houlton's Legacy: The Magic of Dance

About Loyce Houlton



Loyce Houlton’s legacy includes her stunning original repertoire of choreography, a major school of dance and professional company, and a community resource that is rich with opportunity for young dancers and artists, and a range of audiences to learn, grow, and discover their creative passions.

Loyce Houlton, founder of the Minnesota Dance Theatre, recognized her passion for dance while studying medicine at Carleton College in Northfield, MN. When she graduated in 1946 she headed straight for New York City to pursue an advanced degree in dance education and studied under some of the most influential choreographers of the 20th Century. By the time she returned to Minneapolis in 1958, she was fully committed to a vision of establishing the foremost dance company in the Midwest. Houlton persevered through a variety of obstacles to create an influential regional dance company and school and, more importantly, to provide opportunities in creative dance for Minnesota youth.

Validation of Loyce Houlton’s vision and influence is evident in the trove of archived letters from former students and community leaders expressing gratitude for affording an excellent opportunity for young dancers at all levels and bringing dance to every corner of the community from Northrop Auditorium to youth groups and shelters. The letters are part of the extensive archives on Houlton and the Minnesota Dance Company that reside in the performing arts collection in the University of Minnesota Libraries Manuscripts Division.

From 1958 to 1976, Loyce Houlton choreographed 95 works with the goal of creating contemporary dance with a classical basis that spoke of life in America – she insisted on grounding her work in the American experience. Much of her work was, also, inspired by her curiosity with and sense of spiritualism.

Perhaps the most enduring, notable, and locally-recognized of Houlton’s accomplishments as a choreographer and instructor is her interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Fantasy.” It has been performed annually during the holiday season in Minneapolis since 1964, many years in conjunction with the Minnesota Orchestra, with the exception of a few years during the early 1990s. During her tenure, Houlton reworked the choreography over time, challenging her dancers to help create its magic.

Loyce Houlton’s belief in her vision and her deep love and commitment to dance was the framework from which she built her career, her company, and her life. “[It] must be based on love and commitment,” Loyce Houlton once said. Houlton allowed herself to be guided by her heart and that was the magic behind the woman, her choreography, the successful fulfillment of her vision and her leadership, her legacy to Minnesota, and the dance community.

Deborah K. Ultan Boudewyns, Curator

Art History & Performing Arts Librarian

University of Minnesota