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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Reilly: Former leader of Marquette’s dance program dies at 84

Sheila Reilly, the former head of the dance department has passed away. Photo courtesy of

Sheila Reilly, the former head of Marquette’s dance department, died peacefully on Nov. 26 at the age of 84 and was buried on Dec. 3 in a private ceremony at Resurrection Cemetery.

Reilly first came to Marquette in 1955, and in 1956 was hired to teach two laboratory classes a week. By the 1970s, she had begun teaching ballet, but she did not start teaching full time until 1975.

Reilly spent 35 years at Marquette in total. Among her notable pupils were John Neumeier, the chief choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet, and comedian Chris Farley.

Reilly also served as the head of the dance department at Interlochen National Music Camp for 26 years. In addition, she taught with her brother, William, at the William Reilly Academy of Ballet. In 1963, her dancers performed for President John F. Kennedy at the White House.

While at Marquette, Reilly also served as a choreographer and ballet instructor. A 1988 Milwaukee Sentinel article declared her the principle figure in Marquette’s dance program.

“The ‘dance era’ at Marquette is encompassed in one person, Sheila Reilly, whose arrival at Marquette in 1955 marked the start of the program,” the article read.

Michael Price, a professor emeritus and friend of Reilly, remembered the day she was hired full time, and heralded the decision as big step forward for the performing arts at Marquette.

“In 1975 I approached the dean of the College of Speech (now the College of Communication) and requested that Sheila be made a full time employee with the title of lecturer,” Price said in an email. “He approved, the university approved and this became a tremendous day in the history of the MU Theatre Department. This action was an acclamation of the importance of dance and movement for our majors.”

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