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Utah dance pioneer passes away

Published January 25, 2011 10:24 am

She overcame arthritis to teach those with physical, mental challenges.
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Anne Riordan, a pioneer in dance for the disabled, passed away Saturday at the age of 76.

"She was such an incredibly beautiful human being," said Joan Woodbury, co-founder of the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company. "She danced like an angel."

Riordan was born July 30, 1934, in Salt Lake City. She studied with Woodbury at the University of Utah; her other teachers included Shirley Ririe and Martha Graham. Riordan's performing days were cut short when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her mid-20s.

Following her diagnosis, Riordan returned to the U., where she added a master's degree in special education to her bachelor's degree in modern dance. And she combined the two into her life's work.

"She kind of made her own degree — dance for the handicapped," Woodbury said. "She blazed the trail."

Riordan taught dance and adaptive physical education in the Granite School District for two years, then moved to the University of Utah in 1971 as an adjunct professor.

"She took over a couple of my classes when I started teaching graduates. And her classes were always packed. I thought, 'Gee, they weren't packed for me,' " Woodbury said with a laugh. "She got everybody dancing and everybody felt good about it,"

From 1975 until her retirement in 1997, Riordan was an assistant professor at the U., where she pioneered methods for people with both mental and physical disabilities. She also founded two dance companies for disabled adults: Sunrise Dance Company (for mentally challenged adults); and Sunrise Wheels, for individuals in wheelchairs.

Riordan led more than 80 Sunrise performances; conducted 52 dance residencies to train teachers in creative movement for the physically and mentally challenged; was the subject of six documentaries; and was featured in several publications.

Among the awards she received were the Utah Honors in the Arts Award; the Cathedral of the Madeleine Award for Arts and Humanities; the National Dance Association Plaudit Award; a Presidential Scholar Award; the Utah Dance Organization's Lifetime Contribution to the Art of Dance Award; the Distinguished Teaching Award from the U.; and the Utah Professor of the Year Award.

Riordan continued to teach dance while dealing with family tragedy. Her son, Merritt, was murdered in a botched robbery at the Green Parrot Cafe in Salt Lake City in 1992.

Riordan is survived by her husband of 43 years, Michael; daughter Stacia; son Christian; and seven grandchildren.

Services will be 2 p.m. Friday at Neil O'Donnell & Sons Mortuary, 372 E. 100 South. Friends may call from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the mortuary. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Riordan's name to the Arthritis Foundation of Utah, the Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation or Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.







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