In 1932, Omaha citizens voted for Omaha University to become a municipal university, funded by local tax revenues (Pollak and Valentine 31). This transition to a publicly funded institution proved to be a massive undertaking; the University was required to undergo “reorganization, the infusion of faculty with terminal academic degrees, the attrition of less-qualified faculty, the dedication to improve library facilities, the application for federal assistance, and the search for a new location…” (31). Ruth came to UNO as part of this immense transition, replacing her poorly-qualified predecessor who lacked the necessary academic credentials in dance or physical education that were required for the transition from Omaha University to a publicly funded municipal university (Wittman 16).
Hired by President Sealock primarily because of her status as a recent graduate from UNL, Ruth’s innovative style and teaching methods for dance were, at first, unwelcome at UNO because of her predecessor’s inability to maintain a strong, respectable connection with the local community (16). Ruth’s predecessor had taught vaudevillian dance, which was not well received by the public. After a particularly embarrassing public performance in 1931, President Sealock made the decision to hire a younger professor who had a college degree, and, to avoid another embarrassing public debacle, he requested Ruth omit dance classes from her course offerings until she was in good standing with the Omaha community (16). Thus, it became Ruth’s mission to repair the bridge between the local community and the Women’s Physical Education Program at UNO. Her dream of educating students in dance, though, was not so easily squashed; skirting around President Sealock’s specific request, Ruth offered free, no-credit classes to share her knowledge and appreciation of dance during her first semester at UNO (16). After an amazingly enthusiastic response from students to her free classes during the first semester, her dance courses became regular offerings in the Physical Education Department by popular demand (16–17).
Under the guidance of her first dance instructor at UNL, Beatrice Richardson, Ruth had developed not only a love of dance but also an appreciation of dance as a creative outlet, a release, and an art form. This was the same love and appreciation of dance that Ruth brought to UNO and Omaha. Although well-versed in traditional dance such as ballroom, ballet, folk, and square, Ruth sought to push the cultural boundaries in Omaha by teaching and promoting the more controversial modern dance—a type of dance that entailed creativity, interpretation, meaning making, and a mind-body connection. In a lecture about modern dance, Ruth states:
There is a great difference between expressing what is in and of one’s own experience and the practice of self-expression. The latter is exhibitionism or an emotional splurge without pattern. A fine artist is never guilty of it. A true artist doesn’t consider herself; she recognizes that her body is an instrument for the expression of the truth she perceives. True movement is the expression of the whole individual thinking, feeling, and acting. (qtd. in Wittman 74)
Ruth’s transition from Lincoln to Omaha was not entirely smooth. The cultural atmosphere of Omaha was different than the more progressive atmosphere of Lincoln. Although UNL and Lincoln had long been established as the mecca for arts in the state of Nebraska, according to Wittman, “The city of Omaha in the 1930s reflected the growth of the state of Nebraska: it became a wholesaling center for farmers and cattlemen” (12–13). Despite Omahans’ seeming lack of public interest in dance or the performing arts, Ruth accepted a position as head of the Women’s Physical Education Program at UNO in September of 1931, just months after her own graduation from UNL, determined to bring her love and appreciation of dance as an art form to Omaha.
By the end of the 1920s, dance was becoming so popular that it was no longer limited to New York audiences. A woman by the name of Margaret H’Doubler from the University of Wisconsin received training in New York under notable dancers of the time, and, in 1917, she carried her knowledge and expertise back to the Northern Midwest. Returning to the University of Wisconsin, H’Doubler established a college-level dance education system and founded the first Orchesis group, a dance group for advanced students that would grow to have chapters in universities all over America (Anderson 111), including UNL and, eventually, UNO. Beatrice Richardson, Ruth’s earliest formal dance instructor at UNL, used the H’Doubler system for dance education and was largely influenced by the theory and technique of H’Doubler. Consequently, Ruth was trained in modern dance according to the H’Doubler