Former student of French literature retiring after 40-year career at Sonoma State

  • Sonoma State dance instructor Nancy Lyons works with the dance class at Santa Rosa High School. Lyons is retiring this year.

One word Nancy Lyons uses repeatedly when she talks about her lifetime of dancing and teaching dance is "fire."

What's her creative philosophy?

"I'm open to whatever sets people on fire," she declares.

Lyons, now finishing a 40-year career at Sonoma State University, caught the creative spark early in life. Lyons' mother, a frustrated dancer and professional pianist, put young Nancy into dance classes at age 4.

A native of Albuquerque, Lyons warmed up to the idea of a career in dance as a college student, first at the University of New Mexico and later at UC Berkeley.

"When I graduated from Berkeley, I was in French literature, and I couldn't see myself going door to door selling French poetry," Lyons said.

While earning her master's at Mills College in Oakland, her passion for choreography burst into flame.

"What interests me is invention," Lyons explained. "I appreciate the traditional forms, but I like the creation of new patterns."

After dancing with small Bay Area companies and touring as a solo dancer, she started teaching at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, building a program with a strong focus on innovative contemporary dance.

Lyons had other offers. She might have gone to teach at Stanford or Mills, but she loved the energy at Sonoma State.

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