In Memoriam

Virginia Northrop - 1924-2011

Professor Emeritus
Virginia Northrop
In Memoriam: Virginia Northrop, professor emeritus

Gill Wright Miller ’74 can vividly remember the day she met Virginia Northrop. It was Miller’s first year at Denison, and every student was required to take courses in physical education. She showed up in Fellows 101, where the physical education faculty stood around to answer questions students might have and to guide them to a good phys ed fit. Northrop walked up to Miller in the line and said: “You look like a dancer. Sign up for a dance class.” Miller had no formal dance training and was apprehensive. Still she showed up for her first class, took the school-issued leotard and tights, and did her best. “Ginny made me feel like I should give it my all. She believed in me as “having potential,” and I swear I had no idea what I was doing.” When Miller was invited by the faculty to take a composition class, she looked around to find that, of the eight invited students, she was the only one without dance background. She went right to Northrop’s office. “I think this is going to be over my head,” she told her. Northrop’s response? “I don’t think so.” When dance became an official Denison major just one year later, Miller majored, and today is an associate professor in the dance department.

Northrop had something amazing, says Miller. As a dancer trained in the Martha Graham method, she had the ability to convey the history of modern dance from its birth onward through movement. “She held the history in her body,” says Miller. “When she did a Martha Graham arm gesture, you saw Martha Graham dancing that dance. And, as a student, you suddenly ‘got’ it.”

Northrop joined the Denison faculty in 1952 as a member of the physical education department. She was instrumental in moving dance from physical education to the fine arts, and she crafted the Denison dance major passed in 1971-72—one of the earliest in the country. Northrop had a bachelor’s degree from William Smith and a master’s from Sarah Lawrence. She not only taught students how to move, she taught them how to support their bodies through nutrition and exercise. “She wanted us to know that there was more to dance than performing,” says Miller, “and she was willing to help us see not only what those things were but also how they mattered in our lives.”

Northrop retired from Denison in 1975, and eventually moved to Norfolk, Virginia, where she died on Sept. 29, 2011 at the age of 87. She is survived by her sister, Linda Rockwell.

Published April 2012