(formerly the American College Dance Festival Association)

The American College Dance Association (ACDA) began as the brainchild of a group of college and university dance educators who set out in 1971 to create a national organization that would sponsor regional dance conferences at the college and university level, along with national dance festivals. The aim of these events was to recognize and encourage excellence in performance and choreography in higher education.


  • to raise standards of excellence in college and university dance programs
  • to provide an opportunity for college dancers to have their works adjudicated and critiqued by established professionals
  • to provide professional classes, workshops and performing experiences as well as other opportunities for interaction among all participants
  • to provide students the opportunity to perform outside their own academic setting and be exposed to the diversity of the national college dance world
  • to build a network of communication within the college dance community and between the college and professional dance world
  • to provide a regional and national visibility for college-trained choreographers and performers

In 1973 the University of Pittsburgh opened its studios to the first pilot regional festival. Three adjudicators, rather than showing up at the conference as they do today, traveled to 25 colleges and universities to select the dances to be performed on two festival concerts. Participating schools were located in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.  Faculty from all over the country attended. Over 500 dancers poured in to take classes, attend workshops and perform in both adjudicated and informal concerts.

The success of this first festival resulted in the establishment of a non-profit corporation, the American College Dance Festival Association. (This name changed in 2013 to the American College Dance Association.)  Between 1973 and 1979, ACDFA sponsored one or two festivals each year for a total of 14 by the end of the decade. With the generous support of the Capezio Foundation, additional regions were developed.  In 1981 the ACDFA Board of Directors identified ten regions “in a manner that would best serve the development of the organization, encouraging greater regional activity.”  The ten regions were: New England, North East, Mid-Atlantic, South East, Midwest, Central Midwest, South Central, Mountain, North West, and South West.

The first National College Dance Festival took place in 1981 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.  Thereafter, the National Festivals were held every other year. The seventeenth festival took place in June 2016.

Over the years ACDA instituted several ancillary programs, including a Scholarship Program (1985-1993) that enabled conferences attendees to attend summer dance programs and a Faculty Choreography Series (1988-1993) that was co-sponsored by the Duke University Institute of the Arts Dance Program, the American Dance Festival, Dance Center of Columbia College and the University of Texas at Austin. Because of the complexity of administrating these programs, they ceased to be viable and had to be discontinued. The ACDA Archive was created in 2002 at the University of Maryland in College Park.

As the scope and range of the conferences expanded to reflect the changing field of dance, class and workshop offerings began to include forms such as hip hop, Irish dancing, salsa, Caribbean, West African and stepping, as well as acting for dancers, dance and technology, yoga, and the full range of somatic approaches to movement. Dance on film is now being presented at a number of conferences. In addition, member institutions began to look more closely at how work was presented, formulating guidelines for who was to perform and who could present work on the regional concert stages. Copyright issues regarding music and text arose, as well as the nature of the information that adjudicators would receive before watching concerts. Lively discussions and thoughtful solutions have kept conference activities vital and pertinent to the “real” world of dance.

Finally, in an important revision to the ACDA mission statement, implemented in 2011, the organization recognized the need to “honor multiple approaches to scholarly and creative research and activity…and to give presence and value to diversity in dance. “

Today, attendance at the regional conferences and National Festivals numbers between 5,000 – 6,000 with over 300 schools participating annually. These festivals and conferences serve the future of the field of dance by reinforcing the connection between dance in higher education and the professional dance world, broadening the exposure of undergraduate and graduate dancers and choreographers to the art form and forming lasting connections between dance educators and dance programs across the country. The goals of the early visionaries are being realized perhaps more fully than they could have imagined.

Since 1973 ACDA has presented a total of 317 Regional Conferences and 17 National College Dance Festivals, serving tens of thousands of dancers. ACDA’s growth over the years substantiates the organization’s commitment to a strong national network within the academic dance community. The dance field relies on colleges and universities to secure the future of the art form. ACDA’s sponsorship of regional conferences and national festivals continues to be the primary educational (non-competitive) means for college and university dance programs to perform outside their own academic setting and be exposed to the diversity of the national college dance world.


1971          A group of dedicated educators in higher education formulates plans to foster and develop a national organization that would sponsor college/ university regional conferences* and national dance festivals. The focus of these conferences and festivals is to be on dance as a performing art; the aim is to encourage and recognize excellence in performance and choreography on the college level.

1973          A pilot Regional Festival is hosted by the University of Pittsburgh. Workshops, master classes by professional artists, and informal presentations of student works are an integral part of this conference and set the pattern for later conferences.

Following the Festival, the “American College Dance Festival Association” is established as a non-profit corporation.  Originally formed with 13 charter member colleges and universities, ACDA sponsors one conference a year or two conferences throughout the decade with a total of 14 conferences by 1979.

1980’s       With the generous support of the Capezio/Ballet Makers Foundation, additional regions are developed.  Between five and eight regional conferences take place each year with a total of 78 for the decade.

1981          First National College Dance Festival is held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

In order to facilitate communication and planning, the Board of Directors establishes ten separate regions, appointing representatives to the Board to supervise the development of each of these regions. The ten regions were: New England, North East, Mid-Atlantic, South East, Midwest, Central Midwest, South Central, Mountain, North West, and South West.

1982          First edition of the conference handbook is published affecting more consistent planning for the conferences. The goal for the Association is set to eventually sponsor ten regional conferences annually, and National Festivals every other year if feasible.

1985-93    Initiated in 1985, the Scholarship Program offers scholarships for summer study to conference participants. By 1992 the program offers over forty scholarships to twenty institutions. The program is discontinued in 1993 due to difficulties in administering it.

1988-93    The Faculty Choreography Series is launched to develop opportunities for college and university faculty to professionally present their work and to receive written critique by a panel of nationally-recognized dance professionals.  The series is presented four times, co-sponsored by the Duke University Institute of the Arts Dance Program, the American Dance Festival, Dance Center of Columbia College, and the University of Texas at Austin. The Gillman Foundation provides generous support for the 1991 and 1993 series.

1990          The country is reorganized from ten to nine regions.  “Mountain” region is dissolved.  “Midwest” becomes “Great Lakes” and “Central Midwest” becomes “Central.”

1990s        Over the course of the decade, attendance at regional conferences grows from 2,000 to over 3,000 participants each year at nine conferences. Over 30 schools are represented at the National Festivals.

1999          ACDFA Mission Statement is updated to reflect the commitment to “give presence and value to diversity in dance through the planning of regional [conferences] and through the adjudication process.”

2002          ACDFA Archives is established at the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library at the University of Maryland, College Park.

2005          ACDFA reorganizes into ten regions, reaching the goal established in 1981 of ten regional conferences to accommodate growing membership and conference attendance. Attendance tops 4,000 attendees.  Regions include:  Central, East-Central, Mid-Atlantic, New England, North-Central, Northeast, Northwest, South-Central, Southeast, and Southwest.  ACDA board changes the designation of regional events from “festivals” to “conferences,” a term thought to better convey the nature of these events to others in academia.

2008          Attendance at ACDFA conferences tops 5,000 attendees.  Institutional membership tops 350 member schools.

2009          ACDFA implements use of an online registration system for all regional conferences, allowing the national office to monitor and assist all regions.

2010          A total of 95 conferences are presented since the beginning of the 21st century. The ACDFA Board of Directors votes to add an eleventh region beginning November 1, 2011.

2011          ACDFA creates an 11th region by dividing the Southwest region into Baja and West regions.  ACDFA Mission Statement is updated to include scholarly research.

2012          The fifteenth National College Dance  takes place in May at the Kennedy Center.  ACDFA reorganizes regions to create a 12th region, adding the South region for the 2013 conferences.

2013          ACDFA TURNS 40 with 12 regional conferences!

                    The Association changes the name to American College Dance Association (deleting the word “Festival’) to better represent the Mission Statement of the Association. The name change became official with the change of the fiscal year, July 1, 2014.

2014          Eleven regional conferences are planned for Spring 2014 as well the 2014 National College Dance Festival at the Kennedy Center in June.

2016        ACDA redistricts for 13 regions beginning July 1, 2016. Pilot project with Jacob’s Pillow to present “gala highlights” on Inside/Out stage (August)

The Capezio/Ballet Makers Dance Foundation has given on-going support to ACDA National Office operations from 1973 to the present.

Dance Magazine (Dance Media) has support the ACDA /Dance Magazine Awards for Outstanding Student Choreographer and Outstanding Student Performer since 1981.



The ACDA Archives is housed at Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library at the University of Maryland, College Park.  ACDA is listed in the Professional Organization Archives of the Special Collections in Performing Arts.

The archived material includes:

  • correspondence beginning in 1973
  • Minutes from Board of Directors meetings
  • Regional Conference information, including concert programs
  • National College Dance Festival information, including concert programs
  • Gala videotapes and DVDs*
  • ACDA Newsletters beginning in 1976
  • Press coverage
  • Handbooks
  • Miscellaneous historical documents 

Click here for more information about Special Collections.

*PLEASE NOTE:  The ACDA national office does not have copies of regional and national gala concert recordings.  All requests for viewing and/or copying recordings should be made directly to the library.  In no case will copies of dances be made available without written permission from the choreographer.