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Haas gift funds dance artist residencies

Oct. 17, 2005

KALAMAZOO--The nation's top dancers, choreographers and others highly skilled in the field of modern dance will be coming to Western Michigan University in the coming years, thanks to the generosity of a Mendon, Mich., businessman.

The Elaine Hamilton Haas Distinguished Modern Dance Artist-Scholar Residency is being established through a gift from Carroll J. Haas Sr. in honor of his wife, Elaine, a former dancer and teacher. Funding from the endowment will be used to support short-term residencies, bringing outstanding leaders in the field of modern dance to WMU and Kalamazoo. The artist-scholars will include renowned choreographers, artistic directors, modern dance performers, dance authors and critics.

"The Department of Dance is so fortunate to be the recipient of Carroll Haas' very generous gift," says Nina Nelson, department chairperson. "The creation of the Elaine Hamilton Haas Distinguished Modern Dance Artist-Scholar Residency Endowment will allow us to consistently bring outstanding modern dance artists and scholars to campus so that our students and the community can benefit from their talents."

Elaine Hamilton Haas herself was an accomplished dancer while attending the University of Michigan, appearing frequently in collegiate productions before obtaining her degree. Born in Plymouth, Mich., in 1914, dancing was always a big part of her life, says her husband, Carroll.

"She was just born with it," he says. "She was very acrobatic and just loved moving to music from the time she was little."

When she first exhibited her passion for dance as a child, Elaine's father was not very enthusiastic. But upon realizing his daughter was serious and possessed great ability, he let her enroll in dance school in Detroit at age 8. She continued to dance throughout high school and at the University of Michigan, where she enrolled in 1936. She participated as a dancer in Freshman Pageant and was also invited to take part in U of M's Modern Dance Club. Invitation to join the club was selective and reserved for students who were more advanced.

Students selected had the privilege of working with Ruth Bloomer, club director. Bloomer had done her post-graduate study and artistic training in modern dance at the noted Bennington School of Dance in Vermont, where she trained and performed with many of the great modern dancers and choreographers of the era, most notably Martha Graham.

As a member of U of M's Modern Dance Club, Elaine Hamilton participated in numerous programs, demonstrations, recitals and concerts each semester and performed before audiences ranging from 25 to 2,000 people. After the 1936-37 academic year, she was among club members recognized for their "outstanding work," while in the spring of 1937 she was one of six members selected to perform for the newly created Michigan Dance Council at the Detroit Institute of Art. Students, along with director Bloomer, performed before 1,200 people. On another occasion, she was selected to perform for Graham herself to demonstrate how dance was being taught at U of M, receiving instructions from the dance legend.

Hamilton graduated from U of M in 1939 with a degree in elementary education. She enrolled in U of M's Rackham Graduate School, where she took summer classes and taught in the Detroit area. It was at that time she met her husband--not surprisingly at a dance. After he returned from military service during World War II, they married in 1944 and moved to Mendon, her husband's hometown, where they raised six children.

Though she never danced professionally after college, dance remained important to her. Often her family would see her dancing about the house anytime music was playing.

Carroll Haas, an entrepreneurial manufacturer of injection-molded plastics and fittings, started and sold several manufacturing plants in Michigan, Florida, California, Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia. He says he is happy to start yet another enterprise that will pay dividends for many years: a dance endowment in his wife's honor. Now 91 and battling Alzheimer's disease, Elaine Haas has set aside her dancing shoes, but her passion for dance will live on.

"She liked dancing so much and did it so well," her husband says. "I thought it would be nice to do something in her honor along those lines."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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