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Winter 1999

All the World's a Stage
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Judy Mitoma, who subsequently took over the program, had been an undergraduate dance major at UCLA in 1968 when anti-war protestors "were storming down the Men's Gym doors." She earned her M.A. in dance ethnology at UCLA and was asked to lead Ethnic Arts in 1982 at a particularly rocky moment: The Academic Senate had just voted to disestablish the program due in part to low enrollment.

Granted a brief reprieve by the Senate, Mitoma set about revitalizing the program. "We got political," Mitoma recalls. "We felt that Ethnic Arts must be a degree because no one else was offering this curriculum" -- which, from the beginning, focused on interdisciplinary education, issues of diversity, community engagement and thinking globally instead of locally. "These were new notions at the time," she continues, "and we thought this should be the most important program on campus because these were the most important ideas."

The annual budget during Mitoma's first year was $300, a carryover from the days when Hawkins had convinced university administrators to green-light the program by arguing that it could be run on a shoestring. But eventually the university proffered a $60,000 grant spread over three years, and a vital cohort of new students began to join the enterprise.

The program thrived, and in the late 1980s, Mitoma suggested a name change -- to World Arts and Cultures -- as a way to avoid the negative connotations of the word "ethnic." But the new title also served as a declaration of the curriculum's global aspirations: For many students the program became a safe haven, providing a place to learn about issues of diversity and how to become effective community activists.

The 1995 merger of dance and WAC, then, amounted to a rejoining of the original dance major with its spin-off ethnic arts program, with the renamed offspring coming back to swallow its mother whole. At the beginning of the 1990s, WAC had been on the rise with talk of imminent departmental status, while the Dance Department was falling into disarray. "You could feel the weight, the heaviness, about the place," recalls Mitoma, who was called in to serve as interim chair of dance.

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