USC's dance program took on a new name, the "Betsy Blackmon Dance Program," in honor of a late USC student and prominent member of the USC dance community.
Betsy Blackmon attended A.C Flora high School and was a member of USC's class of 2007. She was one of the first students to graduate from the program with a Bachelors of Art in Dance.
Blackmon later passed away in 2018 after battling with cancer. Her parents, the Suggs, decided to give an undisclosed amount to the dance school to help make improvements to the program and keep Betsy’s memory alive.
The money will be used to fund several new endeavors within the dance program, including a new professional faculty position in classical ballet, a professorship in dance that will be awarded to a faculty member and an initiative that will help bring in professional dancers.
Not only will the program take Betsy's name, but with the money, the dance program can be expanded to bring in more professors and welcome guest artists to campus, said Susan Anderson, a former faculty member of USC's dance program.
“The gift is transformative for the dance program because it breathes prestige and power and upgrades the artistic quality of the expectations of this dance program,” Anderson said.
Anderson, who is now on USC's board of dance, first met Blackmon when she was a child.
Blackmon, when she was in fourth grade, would come over to Anderson's house to dance. Blackmon would later find herself once again working with Anderson. But this time, it would be when she majored in dance at USC.
Anderson said she and Blackmon continued to maintain their relationship until Blackmon's passing, which had a great effect on the people that knew her.
The program not only lost a talented dancer, but someone who was a proponent of supporting the arts, she said.
Anderson said she channeled her pain into inspiration and proposed the idea of finding a way to honor Betsy to her mother, Jane Suggs.
"One day, I just said, 'Jane, we should really name the dance program after Betsy,' and she mulled it around in her head for about a year," Anderson said. "And then, they decided we were going to name the building after Betsy, and then (the Suggs) came back and said 'We'd like to name the dance program after Betsy.'"
Giving to the dance program was the Suggs' way of remembering Betsy, said Jennifer Deckert, the director of dance and associate chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at USC.
“They were really looking for a way to honor their daughter and support our dance program at the same time, so we were excited to find a way to really help them honor Betsy and not just honor her but really bring her forward and bring her back to life in many ways,” Deckert said.
The contribution will make a difference for students, said Ja'Lene Woods, a third-year dance education student.
“Recently, art and dance in general — the education has not really been looked at as something that's very 'important' in schools nowadays, so advocating for dance is very important," Woods said.
The funding from the Suggs family and its impact will be felt in the years to come and will help the program flourish, Anderson said.
“It's a gift that will keep on giving, and that's what's important to the Suggs,” Anderson said. “No matter what happens to a building, the dance program is not going anywhere. If it goes anywhere, it's going to go up. Maybe we'll be a separate department. Maybe it'll be a school of dance, and Betsy's name will always move forward with it.”