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Toman, Betty LaVerne

Published onJul 30, 2021
Toman, Betty LaVerne

(June 23, 1926 -         )

Quick Facts

Nationally-recognized dance educator. Because of her efforts and pedagogic success, a Dance Option major was created within the department in 1966.

Betty LaVerne Toman was born in Oak Park, IL, the daughter of Michael and Anna Toman.  At the age of three, she started to dance, and only a year later, she was dancing professionally.  She performed as an eight-year-old at the 1933-34 World's Fair in Chicago. 

Although she might have pursued a performing career on stage or screen, Toman was interested from a young age in teaching dance.  After her graduation from Morton High School in Cicero, IL — where she earned one of the school's first dance letters — she visited the University of Wisconsin and discovered the legendary Margaret H'Doubler, who had organized the first modern dance education program within a college physical education department.

Upon graduating from Wisconsin in 1948, Toman joined the women's physical education faculty at Iowa State College (now University) as the dance instructor, where she taught all levels of modern dance technique, composition, improvisation, and provided the dance teaching methods courses for physical education majors.  She also was adept at teaching square, ballroom, and folk dance with a bit of tap and jazz, too.  For many years, she was seen on stage in college or community productions as a dancer/actor/choreographer and as a ballroom dance teacher on WOI-TV.

It was her dream job and it lasted 40 years.  During that time, she earned her MS from Iowa State in 1957 and held positions as instructor (1948-1952), Assistant Professor (1952-1957), Associate Professor (1957-1964), and Professor and Dance Coordinator (1964-1988).  She was awarded the title Distinguished Professor of Education (1984); in 1988 she became Distinguished Professor Emerita.  Because of her efforts and pedagogic success, a Dance Option major was created within the department in 1966.

Throughout her career, Betty Toman's influence was sought at all levels of dance education, from local stages in Ames and Iowa to international workshops.  She served as advisor to Iowa State's Stars Over VEISHEA performances, further developed the university student dance groups Orchesis and Orchesis II, produced the annual Barjche student dance concert for 22 years, founded and served as artistic director for the Iowa State Dance Tour Company, and presented over 300 lecture-demonstrations in the Midwest about creative movement and dance.

She also founded and served as president of the Iowa Dance Council, served as an advisor to the Iowa Arts Council and on the board of the Ames Community Arts Council, and developed programs for Very Special Arts, Iowa (formerly Iowa Committee — Arts for the Handicapped).  As a result of her accomplishments as a master teacher, Iowa State University enjoyed a national reputation in dance.

At the core of her success was Toman's special genius for bringing out the dance in people of all ages.  She loved working with beginning dance students—the subject of her master's thesis—and introduced thousands of young men and women their own and others' creative movement potential. 

She often referred to dance as "physical education's art form" and wrote in 1969: 

 "In this rapidly changing world, the real need is for broadly educated persons who are physically fit, who are able to adjust to new situations, and who are able to think  imaginatively and creatively.  Science and the arts are not competitive, but complementary, and both must expand, in unison, in our educational system.  Dance is a wonderful hybrid of two equal parental lines:  The art and science of human  movement, the physical and aesthetic, unique in its contribution to the education of youth."

This essay became part of a physical education textbook; it led to her being one of nine Americans invited to participate in the International Humanistic Physical Education Exchange Program in Denmark in 1980 and 1982.  In addition to lauding her work as a dance educator, the Danes translated two of her essays for an anthology.  She was similarly acclaimed as part of the Iowa Yucatan Partners of the Americas Sports-Physical Education Exchange Program in Mexico and as a teacher in Iceland and in Brazil.

Befitting such a long and distinguished career, Betty Toman was recognized with numerous awards and served in leadership positions for many professional organizations.  Active in the National Dance Association (NDA); its parent organization the American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD); the Central District Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (CDAHPERD) and the Iowa Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (IAHPERD), she held scores of offices, ultimately serving in state and district chairmanships for the physical education organizations and as national president of the NDA in 1980.  A U.S. flag was flown over the capitol in her honor.

Her highest organizational recognitions include Honor Awards from IAHPERD (1967 and 1987) and AAHPERD (1987); several Plaudit Awards for Teaching from the NDA (1980-88), the Inspiration Award from the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (1983), and the Heritage Award from the NDA in 1992.

Iowa State University also recognized her with an Outstanding Teacher Award (1969), a Faculty Citation from the ISU Alumni Association (1972), and the naming of the Betty Toman Dance Studios in 1995.  She is included in the ISU Library's women's history resource, "Twentieth Century Women of Iowa State."

Toman's legacy, however, is most vibrant in her former students.  Some successfully pursued professional performing careers with major national and international modern dance companies.  Some are department chairs and faculty members in school or college dance education programs throughout the U.S. 

But the greatest in number are now engineers, agriculturists, veterinarians, business men and women, journalists, scientists, or a host of other professionals.  Because of Betty Toman, they experienced the universal language of dance and left Iowa State, not only with their professional degrees, but as creative people with a keener appreciation of dance as an art form.  Many students majoring in other disciplines even performed in ISU dance concerts and choreographed their own works.

They credit Toman with an awakening to the dance spirit within them.

"She believes in the uninhibited exploration of art, music, and movement by children of all ages.  And she deeply respects individual interpretation and developmental growth in the arts,"  wrote a music faculty colleague.

"If the real purposes of a university education are to broaden one's perception of the world, to stir the imagination, to create a curious, thinking adult, then Betty is truly distinguished as an educator,"  adds a former student.

Selected Sources

VISIONS (ISU alumni magazine), Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 1988

         "Gotta Dance" by Phyllis Lepke, pp. 33-36.

Interviews with Betty Toman, Green Valley, Arizona, April 2013.

Letters from both professional colleagues and former students addressed to Distinguished Professorship Selection Committee in Education, December 1983 and January 1984.

Betty Toman's professional vita provided by her.

Program citation for the 1992 National Dance Association Heritage Award presentation.

"Inside Iowa State" (I think this was in paper form when published), December 1, 1995.

"Twentieth Century Women of Iowa State", ISU Library

Betty Toman Papers RS 10/7/51, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library (website and actual review of objects in collection)

ISU Plaza of Heroines biography

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