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Some History of Div Dance

Through most of the 20th century and up until Antioch University closed the College in 2008, time at Antioch was marked by “divisions.”

A creation of Arthur Morgan’s Antioch in the 1920s, divisions were an expedient but fairly brilliant way to expand the student population without having to do the same to the physical plant. Designated “A” and “B,” two halves of the student body alternated between study in the classroom and working a cooperative education job. For students, the implications of this arrangement were twofold: Antiochians were unlikely to meet half of their graduating class until the year they graduated, and while you were on your co-op job, someone else was sleeping in your bed. A third division, called “C” and “C-Special” doesn’t really factor into our story, but gets brief mention nonetheless. 

With Anioch’s penchant for abbreviation and acronymity, “Divisions” soon became known as “Divs,” heading off to Co-op became “Div-Change,” and the biggest social event of the season became directly associated with divisions in a beautifully brief bit of two syllable alliteration: “Div Dance.” The student handbook collection in Antiochiana, once called “A Books” and later “Survival Guides,” helpfully note change over time. Antiochians of the late 1920s, most of whom had no idea that the Old College had prohibited dancing until very recently, looked forward to the Fall Dance, Spring Dance, something called the Bowery Ball, and Junior Prom, mandated in the “A” Book to be held the fourth Saturday of each Division, then a period of just five weeks. Guidelines for 1931-32 specified a report on the event submitted to Community Government within four days. By the time the “A” Book for 1940-41 came out, the term Div Dance was in general enough usage to appear in the Antioch Glossary found at the back and defined as “Formal division dance, when we hang blue curtains in the gym and get into our best clothes.” That it was a formal event is underscored in the section of the same edition “What To Bring.” For women it explicitly recommends “formals – preferably two; spring and winter, for div dances.” For men, it suggests rather broadly that “a Tuxedo is a good thing to have.” The formality of Div Dance waned over the last half of the 20th century, as it did at the College, but many an Antiochian still got dressed to the nines long after it was no longer a requirement.

To emphasize what a big deal Div Dance once was, it appears in both feature films about Antioch College. Near the end of the original Antioch Adventure, Mary Lou Merriwether waits by the PBX phone for her Derwood Raintree Jr. to ask her to be his Div Dance date. The scene is equally memorable for members of the Antioch Faculty bounding about in full counterculture regalia as the house band. In Antioch Adventure II, Div Dance is themed “Come As Your Parent’s Worst Nightmare.”

Don’t let this bland administrative history of Div Dance deter you from “attending” this year, and have a virtual blast!

“Songs From the Stacks” is a regular selection from Antiochiana: the Antioch College archives by College Archivist Scott Sanders.


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