Linda Luca honored with Founder's Day Award

Service with a smile.

Genny Beckman Moriarty
July 30, 2018
Linda Luca receives the Founder's Day Award.

Linda Luca (left), on stage with Principal Lisa MacFarlane, is recognized for her development of PEA’s dance program.

For her extraordinary efforts at expanding the dance program and elevating the arts at Exeter, long-time instructor Linda Luca was awarded the 2018 Founder’s Day Award at a special assembly in May. An Adelphia University graduate and talented dancer who had fallen in love with teaching, Luca was invited in 1972 to work with Exeter’s newly-arrived female students, as a part-time instructor in the Physical Education Department. She leapt at the chance, and for the next 40 years, Luca’s love for the arts and teaching enriched the Academy community.

What began as a couple of classes meant “to give the girls something to do,” now boasts 16 extracurricular dance clubs, an advanced-level dance company and four levels of instruction. Working tirelessly and with good humor for four decades, Luca built the now-thriving program from the ground up — often in makeshift spaces and on a shoestring budget. But whether holding classes in a converted closet or dancing around giant support beams in the basement of the old Thompson Gym, Luca adapted to the challenges with humility, inventiveness, and a sparkling wit. In doing so, she taught generations of young people to appreciate the joy of movement.

Inclusivity was a hallmark of Linda’s program: She wanted everyone who had an interest in dance to be able to participate, so she opened her classes to dancers of all genders, body types and experience levels. Seeking to expand the curriculum beyond the traditional walls of ballet, she brought in guest instructors and choreographers to teach West African, Indian, hip-hop and a variety of other genres. Embracing the egalitarian nature of the Harkness classroom, she stayed open to her dancers’ ideas and interests and allowed them to choreograph their own pieces. In recognition of her exceptional teaching, she was awarded the Rupert Radford ’56 Faculty Fellowship in 2000. Upon her retirement 12 years later, former students wrote to express their gratitude for her unwavering support and for teaching them to be comfortable in their own skin. “I never heard words of doubt,” one student wrote. “Your studio was a refuge for me,” wrote another.

While retaining her roots in physical education, Luca honed her love for the arts, partnering with members of Exeter’s drama department to stage shows in Fisher Theater. In 2006 she helped establish the Department of Theater and Dance. Longtime friend and colleague Rob Richards, chair of the department, says it was Luca’s “inspiration and deep understanding of goodness and collaboration” that helped bring their programs together. Luca successfully straddled the two departments, and in 2010, as she was nearing the end of her tenure, she and her dancers found a fitting space to call home — the lovingly converted Davis Dance Studio on the second floor of the old Academy Library.

Delivering a citation in Luca’s honor at the Founder’s Day Assembly, Wole C. Coaxum ’88 read: “As we anticipate the opening of the new David E. and Stacey L. Goel Center for Theater and Dance — heralding the next phase of the performing arts at Exeter — we are grateful for the indelible imprint you left on the Academy.”

Coaxum, president of the General Alumni Association and vice president of the Board of Trustees, continued: “Linda, in honor of your joyful heart and innovative spirit, and in commemoration of your efforts to enhance the arts and expand the Exeter experience, it is our great pleasure and privilege to present to you the 2018 Founder’s Day Award.” 

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the summer 2018 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.