Once a dancer, always a dancer

Photo courtesy of Pixabay


A pair of worn, pink ballet shoes lay behind her desk. Her favorite color purple is scattered everywhere and pictures of ballet dancers cover the walls. Only a fraction of Michelle Jarvis’ life can be seen in her office at Butler University.

As interim dean of the Jordan College of the Arts, Jarvis leads the students, faculty and staff within the college. She came to Butler as a student and graduated in 1976 with a dance degree. Ten years later, Jarvis joined the JCA staff as a dance professor. Her career took off from there, where she became dance department chair, associate dean, and now, interim dean.

“With each opportunity, there have been new challenges and ways of working that have allowed me to grow as an artist and person,” Jarvis said. “It’s an exceptional experience.”

Susan Zurbuchen, the arts administration department chair said Jarvis’ commitment has always been to the students. Zurbuchen was a dance faculty member when she met her in the spring of 1989.

“From teaching ballet in the dance studio to administrative leadership as interim dean, she always asks, ‘What is the impact on the students?’” Zurbuchen said.

Jarvis teaches ballet several times during the week and dances often. She looks and moves like a dancer, Zurbuchen said. Her love for traditional ballet continues in her work.

“When I realized that I could really teach, and that I was teaching young people important skills, I knew it was making a difference in their lives,” Jarvis said. “I was drawn in as an educator. I knew I had found my place.”

Jarvis’ splits her time on campus between working in her office and running rehearsals. Meg Liffick, arts and culture marketing director for the JCA, met her two years ago and immediately noticed her precision and hard work.

“She is the embodiment of what she does,” she said. “From the way the moves to the way that she speaks. She’s precise in all things.”

Liffick recognized Jarvis’ work in the studio as commanding and passionate. She works one-on-one with students, she said.

“I saw a whole new view of her in the way she can see the tiniest details as she walks through the studio,” Liffick said. “She takes on a different persona.”

Jarvis focused her career around educating and choreographing. She finds the “magic moments” between her and the dancers during choreography as special experiences.

“It’s like the rest of the world has gone away and there you are in a little time capsule,” she said. “Away you go into this creative, artistic moment that you’ll never have again.”

Jarvis has been dancing since she could remember. Ballet was her favorite, but she learned many different styles and skills to expand her artistry. She was interested in Butler because of its classical ballet program and liberal arts education.

“Getting an education was very important for me and my family,” she said. “You can come to the university and be a professional. That has been a life quest for me.”

Butler students learn professional skills in production, lighting, technical work and costuming. Dancers do not learn just one skill, but many, Jarvis said.

Diane Timmerman, theatre department chair at Butler, met Jarvis as a colleague in 1993. Jarvis worked in many roles and provided great service for the college, she said.

“Michelle looked deeply at the needs and trajectory of the college and is leading us with great insight during this transitional year,” she said. “She loves the college and has a wealth of knowledge to help JCA in a multitude of ways during the year.”

With her work, Jarvis focused on sticking to tradition, but paved the way for new additions to Butler’s campus. JCA wanted a second performing hall, but funds never came their way. Jarvis was the interim dean a few years later, when the money came and the building commenced.

“For her, it must have been a really proud moment as she was interim dean and able to put the shovel in the ground,” Zurbuchen said.

Zurbuchen said she remembers walking around the Howard L. Schrott Center for the Arts with Jarvis when it was under construction.

‘Michelle, you can’t wear your heels!’ Zurbuchen and other faculty told her during their hard-hat tour of the soon-to-be Schrott Center.

Jarvis now works to continue development and creativity within JCA. This year’s Butler Ballet dancers have strong technical abilities, Jarvis said. Their talents showed in the Nutcracker ballet production.

“The story doesn’t necessarily change, but what’s brought into the story by the performers is magic,” she said. “There are clear high points in the production this year because of certain dancers and their artistry. They’re really shining.”

Jarvis kept gifts from a group of community children in the production years ago. She brought out all of her nutcrackers and placed them around her house.

“I have nutcrackers everywhere,” she said. “It’s so exciting to have them out, how special [they are] to enjoy.”

Jarvis poses with senior Hope Hagen after the recent performance of The Nutcracker.

Jarvis poses with senior Hope Hagen after the recent performance of The Nutcracker.

Jarvis invests in her dancers and their work, both inside the studio and on-stage.

“I dance every step with them,” she said. “I’m absolutely exhausted after the performance is over because I’m doing everything with them, every move.”

Jarvis has been working at Butler for 30 years. She is optimistic of what the future may bring on campus and in her work.

“My desire is to continue to enjoy every opportunity I have here at Butler, to give back and share with the students, to work and help colleagues in any way I can, to be part of this magnificent institution and to make a difference within it,” Jarvis said. “We’re all in it together.”

Jarvis is tied to Butler’s identity, Liffick said.

“Every school has to have someone who carries the torch of tradition,” Liffick said. “Michelle is certainly that person.”

Throughout her work, Jarvis’ impression on Butler University grew and developed into what it is today, filled with a little purple, a couple of nutcrackers and leaps and bounds of dance.


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