Aline Coleman Smith

Pioneer Modern Dance Educator in Utah

Aline Coleman Smith, BYH Class of 1930
Aline Coleman Smith, BYH Class of 1930

Brigham Young High School
Class of 1930

Aline Coleman Smith is considered one of the most important pioneers in bringing Modern Dance to Utah and the Brigham Young University campus.

Aline was born in July of 1911 in Provo, Utah to Jacob and Allie Smoot Coleman. Her father was a Provo City Attorney. Her mother, Allie is the grand daughter of Abraham O. Smoot, an important administrator of BYU in its early days, through his second wife, Dianna Tanner Eldredge Smoot. Aline was the oldest of five children.

Aline attended elementary school at Brigham Young University Training School. She continued on the BYU Lower Campus through high school at Brigham Young High School, graduating in three years in May of 1930.

Aline started her dance studies at the age of six with Venice Jepperson in Provo, Utah. Through her adolescent years, she also studied Ballet with Bill Christensen at the McCune School in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Mildred Lewis Hinckley at Brigham Young University.

When Aline was 15, she performed in the talent show at the annual bonfire tradition in preparation for the climb up Mount Timpanogos the next morning. Eugene Roberts, then head of the Physical Education Department at BYU, was so impressed with Aline's performance that he asked her if she might be interested in teaching dance classes at the University.

She eventually accepted, but felt she needed further training. She left to study at the Denishawn School of Dance summer camp in Westport, Connecticut. Denishawn School was a New York pioneer in producing modern dancers.

Many prominent dancers came out of Denishawn, including Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman.

While there, Ruth St. Denis choreographed The Lamp with Aline in the chorus. Aline was thrilled to be part of Ruth St. Denis' choreographic process. Aline performed in the piece, with Ruth St. Denis & Ted Shawn as principal dancers, on the NYU Lewishon Stadium stage. They were accompanied by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece was set to the music of Franz Listz's Les Preludes.

Of her Denishawn experience, Aline said:
"This was all a wonderful and memorable experience for me. Besides the dance training, 'Miss Ruth' took the class to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Ted Shawn had us reading inspirational dance books and articles to compliment his theory lectures. For someone who had never been outside Utah, this was a broadening experience."
After returning to BYU around 1929, Aline did most of the modern dance choreography, which was her passion. She used "music visualization" when she choreographed, a style of choreography that she learned at Denishawn.

Aline taught many classes, including Ethnic Dance and Modern Dance, which at that time was called "natural" and "interpretive" dance.

This was during the Great Depression era, and the University suffered greatly from lack of funds. While a student dance teacher, Aline received free tuition ($37 a quarter, or semester) as compensation. Aline and her students often had to make their own costumes and buy their own music.

The only place for them to rehearse was in the Women's Gym on the lower campus. The dancers had to share the gym with the men's basketball team, since the Men's Gym on top of the Training School had been declared unsafe for big crowds.

Bleachers were regularly set up or in the process of being taken down, which made it difficult for students to concentrate and learn dances. Aline frequently took the dancers to her parents' home three doors down to rehearse in their front room.

Her sister Martha, a junior high student, performed as the accompanist for the dances. As Martha learned new songs, the students learned new dances. Aline remembered imagining and choreographing dances in her mind as Martha played at home. Martha occasionally danced in some of the pieces.

Aline graduated with high honors from BYU in 1933 with a degree in both Physical Education and Education.

After graduation from BYU, Aline attended the University of Wisconsin to study under Margaret H'Doubler, who was considered the best Dance Education teacher in the U.S. at the time. The University of Wisconsin was the only school in the nation that offered a degree in Dance in the early 1930's.

Upon returning to BYU, Aline was one of two faculty members in the Women's Physical Education Department. She taught Modern Dance, Freshmen Gym, Ballroom Dance, and assisted Wilma Jeppson in teaching Folk Dance. Aline taught at BYU for a total of almost 10 years between 1929 and 1938.

Because of her connection with the Denishawn School in her youth, upon returning to teach at BYU, Ted Shawn and his male dancers performed at BYU.

After, Aline choreographed a number for six of BYU's men athletes, who were, surprisingly enough, good dancers and enjoyed performing.

She also had significant help from two art majors, Floyd Cornaby and Claude Snow during her tenure as a teacher. Floyd designed masks and created character dances, while Claude, who had worked with Ted Shawn, helped create American Indian dances. They were also instrumental in helping with production work. Ariel Davis, a renowned inventor in stage lighting, created lighting effects for performances.

Aline married Virgil J. Smith in December 1933. After her son, Jay Coleman Smith was born in 1939, Aline taught part time for two years before moving to Boise, Idaho with her husband. There, she sat on the YWCA board for 12 years, assisting in developing departments, particularly for adults who wished to learn to dance.

After a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, Aline saw many beautiful cross-stitch, needlepoint and pettipoint pieces of art, which triggered a 30-year interest in creating some of her own cross-stitching art. She was a vibrant source for good and had many interests and hobbies until her death at 105.

In retrospect, Aline Coleman Smith was a catalyst for the beginnings of Modern Dance at BYU. As of 2011, the Dance Department instructs more than 4,500 students every fall and winter semester in a curriculum that varies widely from choreography to pedagogy. The Dance Department also has a strong Contemporary Modern Dance Division, and a performance team, the Contemporary Dance Theatre, formerly known as The Dancers' Company.

In 2014, she was the subject of Kristina Smith's essay "Taking Flight Through Creation," which was featured in the Winter 2015 edition of BYU Magazine. This is part of that essay:
This September, I interviewed a 103-year-old woman who values creation as much as I do. In her younger years, Aline Coleman Smith (BS ’33) took flight through dance, particularly choreography. She lived for the moments when she saw her designs in motion.

Smith’s passion for dance fueled her dreams and brought her success. When she was just 15 years old, she danced around a bonfire for an annual school tradition.

Eugene L. Roberts (ND ’16), BYU’s Physical Education Department head at the time, witnessed her performance and offered her a job teaching dance at BYU. She accepted right away, eager for an opportunity to choreograph. She took a break from high school to study dance in New York for a few months before teaching at BYU.

These were huge changes for Smith, expediting the flight to her future, forcing her to grow up fast.

“Were you scared or reluctant?” I asked her. “Did you hesitate?” She looked at my curious eyes, honesty in hers.

“No,” she said. “I loved dancing, so I was happy to do it.”

As a 5-year-old girl, I remember dancing in my living room. Powerful and passionate, I felt like a creator.

She was instrumental in bringing modern dance to Utah and BYU. Students flocked to her classes and she inspired them to keep dancing.

“To be creative is one of the most exciting things you can do,” Smith told me. “A choreographer creates, and I loved that.” It fulfilled her. It was enough.

But as I spoke with her, for a brief moment the fact that she loved creating through dance was just not enough for me. The journalist in me kept prying, seeking a deeper meaning behind her decision to choreograph and dance. Her influence laid the groundwork for thousands of dance students to follow, showing them by instruction and example how to take flight with their own dreams.

Did she feel that she made a good living by following her creative instincts? Was she fulfilled by the impact she had on others? And how do these questions apply to my desire to take flight as a creative journalist?

I hoped to snatch the perfect quote: something poetic and meaningful about the purpose behind her passion.

So I tried one more question: “Why did you dance?”

“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “I danced because I loved it.”

Aline Coleman Smith

In Memoriam at 105

Aline Coleman Smith, age 105, beloved mother, wife, aunt, sister, teacher, and sweet-spirited friend to so many, passed away peacefully on January 9th, 2017, surrounded by her loved ones.

She was born July 2, 1911 in Provo, Utah to Jacob and Allie Smoot Coleman. She quickly assumed her role as caring eldest child and mother's helper, watching over her siblings throughout their childhoods.

Her parents must have had a sense, even in those early years, that Aline would eventually take care of them - which she did for a number of years at the end of their lives.

Jacob was a Provo City attorney and very active in local civic affairs throughout his life. Aline's mother, Allie, was the granddaughter of Abraham O. Smoot, mayor of both SLC and Provo and an ambitious, resourceful administrator in the formative years of BYU.

Allie was also the source of Aline's sweet-tempered, generous personality. Aline was the oldest of five children and is survived by her "baby" sister, Genevieve "Jenny" Coleman Walker. She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband, Virgil J. Smith, her son, Jay Coleman Smith, brothers, Dr. James Smoot Coleman and Dr. Sherman Smoot Coleman and sister, Martha Coleman Miner.

During her elementary years, Aline attended Brigham Young Training School, where she discovered her lifelong passion for dance. She graduated from Brigham Young High School in three years, in the Class of 1930.

She went on to study Modern Dance with the illustrious early pioneers Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis in New York, and with Margaret H'Doubler at the University of Wisconsin. She graduated with high honors from BYU in 1933 with degrees in both Physical Education and Education.

Aline was instrumental in founding the dance program at BYU, and continued to teach and choreograph there for 10 years after her graduation. Choreography was her greatest passion, especially the crafting of large ensemble works to classical music.

Her younger sister Martha, was an award-winning classical pianist who played for Aline's classes and dances; the two were a marvelous artistic team. Aline would imagine and choreograph dances in her mind as she listened to Martha's playing at home.

Aline married Virgil J. Smith in 1933. Their son Jay was born in 1939. Soon after, the family moved to Boise, Idaho, where Aline became very active in the YWCA, developing dance and movement programs for adults.

During a trip to Copenhagen, Denmark she fell in love with Danish cross-stitch, needlepoint and petit point. Soon after, she embarked on what was to become a 30-year passion for creating original needlework of her own. These pieces adorn the furniture and walls of her loved ones to this day.

Following her husband Virgil's death in 1992, Aline moved to Salt Lake City to be closer to her large extended family and childhood friends. For many years, she and her sister, Martha, shared a home in Holladay, full of music, art and good humor. In 2006 they moved to Highland Cove, living just down the hall from one another.

Throughout her life, Aline was a great reader and avid student of literature and history. When her eyesight deteriorated, she continued to enjoy audiobooks - listening to 5 or 6 a week, which her younger sister Jenny supplied - scouring local libraries to keep up with Aline's voracious reading appetite.

Aline was also a member of Daughters of Utah Pioneers and Daria Book Club, where she made many lifelong friends.

Aline will be especially remembered for her loving, open-hearted generosity and wide- ranging friendships. She remained very close to her extended family and leaves behind a legion of friends at Highland Cove and throughout the region.

A small family graveside service will be held in Boise, Idaho at a later date.

Aline's family would like to especially thank all of her dear friends, the Olpin family, Dr. Margaret Lunt and her nurse Shannon for their love and kindness over the years, and CNS Hospice for their recent care.

Memorial donations in honor of Aline may be made to either DSBVI (Utah Blind Center) at 250 North 1950 West Ste. B, Salt Lake City, Utah 84116-7902 or to the BYU Modern Dance fund at

Thanks to the Deseret News, January 15, 2017

BYH Biographies