Olivia Sabee

I am Associate Professor of Dance at Swarthmore College. During the 2024-2025 academic year I am an invited researcher at the Centre de recherches historiques at the CNRS-EHESS, and will co-teach the Histoire culturelle de la danse seminar with Elizabeth Claire.

I am a scholar of French and Italian dance and literature with a focus on the late seventeenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. My first book, Theories of Ballet in the Age of the Encyclopédie, details how the publishing industry shaped the dissemination and reception of early modern dance texts, and subsequently early modern dance theory. I am currently at work on a new project examining the movement of dancers and ballet masters between France, Saint-Domingue, and the United States in the years around the French and Haitian Revolutions. My research has been supported by fellowships including a Mellon-Council for European Studies Dissertation Completion Fellowship,  a NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts Resident Fellowship, and most recently, a Mellon New Directions Fellowship.

My teaching spans the three categories of classes Swarthmore’s Dance Department offers, including dance studies, choreography, and studio practice. Strongly committed to promoting interdisciplinary study, I am also a member of the Committees on Comparative Literature and Interpretation Theory. Prior to joining the Swarthmore faculty, during my graduate studies, I taught courses in French language and literature at Johns Hopkins University.

A choreographer as well as a scholar, between 2015 and 2020, I created new work for Agora Dance, a Washington, DC-based contemporary dance company I co-founded with Catherine Roth and Niko Sommaripa. From 2013-2015, I served as Associate Director of MOVEIUS Contemporary Ballet. My choreography has been presented at venues including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Dance Place, Sidney Harman Hall, the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts, the Arellano Theater at Johns Hopkins University, and Montgomery College (MD); supported by Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and Dance Metro DC; and commissioned by the National Gallery of Art (DC).

Before coming to Swarthmore, I earned a high school diploma in Ballet from North Carolina School of the Arts, a B.A. in French from the University of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in French from Johns Hopkins University. During my graduate studies I was a visiting student at the École normale supérieure and Oxford University, and attended Bryn Mawr College’s Institut d’études françaises d’Avignon. My early dance training came from Pacific Northwest Ballet School, Cornish College Preparatory Dance Program, and ARC School of Ballet in Seattle. Between 2008 and 2015, I taught ballet in a number of non-academic settings, including the American Dance Institute (MD), CityDance (DC), the Joffrey Academy of Dance, and Lou Conte Dance Studio, as well as movement for opera singers at the Peabody Institute. I currently serve on the advisory boards for Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, Dance Chronicle, and AIRDanza Review