A Dance Teacher's Legacy

Photo of Sunni BlolandEducating the Whole Student Through the Sunni Bloland Lectureship in Dance

Sunni Bloland believes passionately in the power of dance. “There’s nothing quite like it,” she says. “Of all the activities we offer students—not just at UC Berkeley but elsewhere—dance opens the doors to their hearts, minds, and bodies. For me, a person is not fully educated unless he or she can dance.”

Sunni joined Berkeley’s faculty in 1960 and, until her retirement in 1990, taught primarily the social dances: folk and ballroom. She also taught modern dance, as well as dance theory, history of dance, and rhythmic analysis. Later she added Iyengar yoga.

In 2017 Sunni was inspired to keep the spirit of dance alive at UC Berkeley by endowing The Sunni Bloland Lectureship in Dance. She hopes her gift will help Berkeley’s students continue dancing and developing into happy, well-rounded individuals.

Sunni experienced her own first dance as a small girl perched on her father’s shoes. The desire to move stayed with her, and she earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education at Sargent College of Boston University, followed by a master’s in dance at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Throughout her career, she danced with renowned teacher Anna Halprin, served as president of the California Dance Education Association, received a Fulbright to study Romanian traditional dance, and participated in several professional arts organizations.

Dance is a playful act, and keeping that alive keeps the child in us alive, the excitement, the beauty, the romance.

There is a long tradition of dance in society, and over the centuries it has been used to impart social skills, connect people, and simply bring joy to the human experience. As a dance teacher, Sunni saw its power to help her students—encouraging shy kids to step up, helping individuals learn about themselves, and teaching young people the art of relating to one another. She also knew that students came to college with social hopes and aspirations, and that dance could help fulfill those. “Students had the chance in my classes to be ladies and gentlemen, and sometimes for the first time in their lives. The men learned how to ask a woman to dance, and the women in my classes always had to say yes. This was something maybe long forgotten in our society, but I tried to bring it back a little, along with the simple happiness that dancing engenders.”

Says one former student, “Everyone felt her enthusiasm. Her energy spilled over onto everybody.”

Sunni also knew that dance could help her students deal with stress, not a trivial matter at Berkeley. “Berkeley students worked hard, and many worried about their grades,” she says. But in her classes, they could let off steam and shift their energy. “Everybody came out with a little high after dancing,” explains one student.

Sunni was also able to teach history and culture to her students through dance. She taught about African influences on the Swing and Hustle, and Latin or Cuban influences on the Rumba and Cha-Cha. She offered students a deeper understanding of European cultural diversity as well as the rituals and ceremonies underpinning folk dance.

“Berkeley students were extremely bright, interested, and adorable,” says Sunni. “It was a love affair—me with them and them with me. Well, I can’t speak for them, but I think so,” she chuckles. In 1990, Sunni was awarded UC Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

Sunni’s gift of the Bloland Lectureship is allowing her to leave behind something of deep significance to her. “I’m interested in the social aspect of dance: people coming together to get to know each other and themselves. I want to help Berkeley promote this social dance. Long may it live as part of our beautiful American society.”

Thanks to Sunni, many Berkeley students will benefit from what dance has to offer. She is leaving a legacy that will forever renew the joy and connection that she and her students experienced as they danced together.