Remembering an Icon: Maxine DeBruyn

Retired dance professor Maxine DeBruyn’s energy was limitless and legendary, and her impact reflects it in lasting tribute even as she is mourned.

DeBruyn, who pioneered the creation of the college’s nationally accredited dance department beginning in the 1960s and was active in dance education internationally for more than half a century, died on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. She was 83.

She initiated the Department of Dance at Hope with a single course shortly after coming to the college in 1965. From that first class, the program grew into a department in 1974 and a major in 1984. The academic program has been accredited by the National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD) since 1982.

DeBruyn retired from Hope in 2006 as the Dorothy Wiley DeLong Professor Emerita of Dance, but continued to teach at the college and remained active in professional associations and dance education for several more years.

“Max touched, guided, and inspired the lives of literally thousands of dancers, students, educators, colleagues, humans,” said longtime colleague Linda Graham, who retired from Hope’s dance faculty in 2019 after teaching at the college since 1983.

“The world is better because she was here — there is no greater dance to be done.”

DeBruyn chaired the college’s dance program from its beginning through the 2003-04 school year. In addition to being active as a teacher and choreographer, among other service she was head cheerleading coach from 1968 to 1996; founded and directed the Strike Time Dance Company, an affiliate company of the Department of Dance that brings dance to children in grades K-6; and founded and advised the student Sacred Dance Group. She continued to teach dance classes at the college for several years after retiring.

Active professionally at the highest levels beyond campus, she was a past president of the NASD; a past president of the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO); past president of the Sacred Dance Guild; past president of the Midwest District of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD); past vice chair of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs; past member of the Advisory Board of Dance and the Child International (daCi); and past member of the Conseil International de la Danse, UNESCO, Paris. She coordinated Cecchetti Council for America International Summer School at Hope College for more than 20 years, beginning in 1994.

A 1959 graduate of Michigan State University, she received numerous honors for her extensive involvement in dance education. She received multiple service awards through the years from the Midwest District of AAHPERD; a service and leadership award from AAHPERD in 1987; and the Honor Award from the Michigan Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance in 2000. She received a Presidential Citation from the National Dance Association for dance assessment in 1992. In 1989, her work in the arts was cited in the U.S. Congressional Record and in a Joint Concurrent Resolution from the State of Michigan Legislature. For her community impact, she received the Resthaven Good Shepherd Award in 2011, honored as “a leader in senior wellness throughout the Holland/Zeeland, Michigan community.”

She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Michigan Dance Council in cooperation with the NDEO in 2004. The NDEO presented her with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

DeBruyn played a leadership role in the effort to establish the college’s DeLong Professorship in the 1980s. The endowment was for many years used to bring additional dance professionals to campus to work with students. Hope named her to the professorship in 2002 and committed to supporting the visits in other ways. She received the college’s Ruth and John Reed Faculty Achievement Award in 2001, and was honored by the Alumni H-Club at Hope in 1985 and 1996.

Survivors include her daughter, Margret Christine DeBruyn, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.