Honoring a legend: Sybil Shearer, RU-founding faculty member
Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 15, 2012 18:10
On Oct. 10 in WB 317, former faculty members, students, President Chuck Middleton, and members of the general public gathered to celebrate Sybil Shearer, a dancer, choreographer and Roosevelt-founding faculty member. This was the first in Roosevelt’s Founding Faculty Lecture Series, featuring founding faculty members and their contributions to the university.
“We all know the foundational moments of any institution are very critical to its long-term direction and success,” said Roosevelt University President Chuck Middleton, in a university press release. “Our founders set the mission, core values and belief systems that have guided the institution ever since. They were a diverse and highly talented group of faculty who created academic programs of the highest quality.”
“The artist is characterized as being the most selfish and at the same time the most selfless person, depending on the sympathy and understanding of the audience,” Shearer wrote in her autobiography Without Wings the Way is Steep: The Autobiography of Sybil Shearer, “The truly selfless person has to be conscious of this duality and learn to regulate his life according to his capabilities, so that throughhis consciousness he is able to grow.”
The celebratory event, “Sybil Shearer: The Legendary Life of an Elusive Dancer,” focused on Shearer’s life, her love of art, music, dance, and her close relationship with then-Roosevelt University President Edward J. Sparling. Shearer came to the YMCA College, which became Roosevelt College, in 1942, and taught dance classes while keeping up with her budding dancing career.
“I am delighted that Sybil Shearer will be the first founding faculty member we recognize,” Middleton noted in the release.
Working closely with photographer Helen Belfour Morrison, Shearer’s career blossomed into a magical experience for all those who watched her perform. Ironically, Shearer didn’t hold many public performances, but when she did, it was a must-see for performing-arts lovers.
“During my life I feel I have held back more than I have given,” Shearer wrote in her autobiography introduction, “but when I have given I have done so completely. A performance for me was a complete emptying out, and after each one I had to have time to recuperate.”
Toby Nicholson, a dancer in the Sybil Shearer company beginning in 1960, mentioned that she taught him many important life lessons, such as practicing until the dance is right.
“She was not only a dancer but an actress, and her different characters were very strong,” Nicholson said.“ She trained us and gave us lessons as well as working in her company.”
Nicholson’s advice he’d pass on to aspiring dancers?
“Not to settle for anything less than the best and work until it’s correct,” he said.
Shearer has a three-part autobiography that is currently being published by the Morrison-Shearer Foundation. The first volume, Without Wings the Way is Steep: The Autobiography of Sybil Shearer was published in 2006; the second volume, The Midwest Inheritance (Without Wings the Way Is Steep: The Autobiography of Sybil Shearer), was released early 2012. The third volume’s release date is to be announced.
Erica Kast, the foundation manager of the Morrison-Shearer Foundation, and Carol Doty, the foundation’s board of trustees chairwoman produced the event. Kast said that the objective of the event was to get people interested in dance and Shearer’s life overall.
“Sybil embodies something really uniquely creative and very engaging and dynamic,” Kast said, “I hope that people take away a new appreciation for the wide variety that can happen in modern dance.”
Shearer passed away in 2005 in Evanston, Illinois.
Chicago Magazine featured ‘Swan Song’ in 2006, in which article writer Lucia Mauro featured and reflected on Shearer’s life:
“Shearer repeatedly distinguished herself as one of the most free-spirited individuals to emerge from the early years of American modern dance. She was among the first modern performers to tackle spiritual and social justice issues,” Mauro wrote, “Even after her passing, her presence still resonates.”
Which founding faculty member would you like to hear about in the lecture series? Tweet us @RUTorch