Buff Brennan spends career encouraging, supporting dance students


‘She was a big part of why I stuck it out’

Buff Brennan spends career encouraging, supporting dance students

Mary (Buff) Brennan doesn’t remember her first dance class, as a 3-year-old.

“Of course it was ballet, because when you’re 3, that’s what you do,” she says.

Somewhat later, Brennan, who has been called Buff since her days as a camp counselor, discovered modern dance. It changed her life — and the lives of many dancers who trained with her at UW–Madison.

Kimi McKissic short“I looked into how to take more dance,” says Brennan, who today is a professor emerita with the School of Education’s Dance Department. “And this was the place.”

During the summers of 1962 and 1963, Brennan studied dance in Madison.

She would go on to earn both a master of science (1967) and a Ph.D. (1976) in dance, and was a faculty member at UW–Madison until 2002. She continued to teach and work part-time until about four years ago.

One of her responsibilities, especially during her three stints as chair of the Dance Department, was to help award scholarships.

“I really saw, especially around scholarships, the work students had to go through to earn their degrees,” says Brennan, who went on to support four scholarship programs in the Dance Department.

In addition to teaching and working in the Dance Department, Brennan also co-wrote a biography of Margaret H’Doubler, who in 1926 was the driving force behind UW–Madison becoming the first university to offer a degree program in dance. The book, published in 2007, is titled, “Margaret H’Doubler: The Legacy of America’s Dance Education Pioneer.”

“She was not a dancer,” says Brennan, “but she started the dance program here and taught people to be creative.”

Brennan also taught people to be creative and to grow to the height of their potential. After coming to UW–Madison for those summers 50 years ago, she has never really left.

“I had a great position,” she says. “I was teaching and working with dancers. I kept moving all the time.”

Students who receive scholarships write thank-you notes to the donors. Brennan said hearing from the students she helps makes the gift feel good.

“I know what they are going through,” she says. “I earned my degrees while working in the Dance Department. It’s great to know their plans and dreams.”

And to have a hand in helping reach those dreams.

For information about making a gift or other donations to the School of Education, please visit supportuw.org/giveto/education 

Buff Brennan class 1980s

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