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John Bedford and Jo Rowan

The end of an era here at OCU. Longtime dance school Dean John Bedford and dance director and program founder Jo Rowan have announced they will retire from the university on June 30, 2022, following tenures that have spanned more than 40 years. OCU President Kenneth Evans shared the following message with the campus community:

It goes without saying that the impact John and Jo have had during this time has been substantial. Perhaps the best way to quantify that impact is to look at the number of students who have gone on to successful careers in the dance and entertainment industries: OCU dance graduates have performed in more than 100 Broadway musicals. More than 50 have become Rockettes or Radio City song and dance ensemble members. Scores more have performed in national tours of musicals, on major cruise lines or at prominent theme parks.

Other graduates have taken what they learned under the tutelage of John and Jo and went on to teach future generations of dancers in studios and academies around the country, extending the reach of OCU’s dance network like a far-reaching family tree.

Along the way, the couple built OCU’s dance school into what many regard as the nation’s preeminent program for dance education and professional preparation. Their decision to make OCU a destination not only for ballet, but also for tap, jazz, and musical theatre dance, put our university on a pedestal in the dance world. Their focus on arts management in both the commercial and non-profit sectors has enabled OCU graduates to find work in all areas of the arts – from the stage to the boardroom.

John and Jo certainly will leave big shoes to fill. Taking over administration of the dance school on an interim basis is Associate Dean Melanie Shelley. Melanie began as interim dean on July 1. She will work closely with John and Jo to ensure a smooth transition and a continuation of the excellence that we have come to expect from our dance school.

That excellence, of course, is due to the dedication and efforts of John and Jo, as well as numerous dedicated faculty, staff, students and alumni over many years.

Please join me in thanking John and Jo for their contribution to our university and for their contribution to the arts in our city, state and country.

Lastly, join me also in wishing them all the best in a well-earned retirement. Thank you again, John and Jo, for all you have done for OCU.

Thank you Dean Bedford and Jo, from everyone in the OCU family.

John Bedford, Founding Dean

John Bedford, dean of the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment, is a producer of The American Spirit Dance Company and all dance performing activities at Oklahoma City University. He has an extensive background in all areas of arts management having served as orchestra manager; tour manager and director of audience development for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra; general manager of Maryland Ballet and Dallas Ballet; business manager of Light Opera of Manhattan in New York City (off-Broadway credit); and deputy director and acting executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council. He founded Ballet-Under-The-Stars in Dallas, and with Jo Rowan, wrote the plan which led the OCU dance and arts management programs to international recognition and ranking of #1 BFA-Dance program in the nation by OnStage Media. He led the management team for The American Spirit Dance Company’s international goodwill and domestic tours. Under his management and guidance, The American Spirit Dance Company has performed for thousands of people in Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and China. Overseas performances have helped to raise funds for the relief of victims of natural disasters, for equipping cardiovascular surgical centers, for providing care and services for the physically disabled and people with neurological diseases, and for providing scholarships for law students. Bedford has arranged and managed tours within the United States to Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and throughout Oklahoma. He also oversaw concerts by the Baltimore Symphony at Carnegie Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center. He is the founder of arts management programs at OCU and created and taught courses in contracts and management for performers, performing arts tour management, management of non-profit performing arts organizations, presenting and sponsoring performances, orchestra management, and dance company management. Additionally, Bedford designed the curricula for the dance management and entertainment business degree programs. Through a series of Dean’s Invitation Arts Management Tours, he has arranged for top arts management students to meet with leaders of the London Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham (England) City Symphony Orchestra, Royal Shakespeare Company, Really Useful Group (Andrew Lloyd Webber), Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Birmingham Dance Xchange, Arts Council of England, Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, China National Symphony Orchestra, China National Children’s Theatre, China National Ballet, Beijing Academy of Dance, and other world-class arts organizations. He holds degrees in drama, business administration, and management; studied French horn at Juilliard School of Music; and was a member of the prestigious Congregation-of-the-Arts at Dartmouth College. Bedford has performed as an actor in Actors' Equity productions of "Three Sisters," "Right You Are If You Think You Are," "Life With Mother," and "Androcles and the Lion." In addition, he has served as production stage manager for over 16 dramatic and musical productions and on the technical staff for 13 Equity musicals. In 2000, the Malaysian American Society selected Bedford for its Most Distinguished Fellow Award for service to the people of Malaysia through dance and the performing arts. In 2001, he received the Tap Preservation Award from the St. Louis Tap Festival and the Robert L. Reed Tap Heritage Institute. In 2005, Bedford was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame. In 2006, Bedford received the prestigious Flo-Bert Award, the “Tony of Tap” in New York City, and a proclamation from the president of the Borough of Manhattan for contributing “significantly to the cultural life of Manhattan and all of New York City.” In 2008, Bedford received in New York a coveted “Traditions in Tap" Award.

Jo Rowan, Founding Dance Chair

Jo Rowan, director, and founder of The American Spirit Dance Company, is a nationally known master ballet teacher and performer and was a professor of dance and chairman of the Dance Department in OCU’s Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment. Rowan, who was trained at Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York City and the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, holds degrees in design and dance from the University of Cincinnati and has performed with Cincinnati Ballet, Dallas Ballet, Garden State Ballet, Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Dallas Opera, Philadelphia Opera, Tulsa Opera, Cincinnati Opera, and as a soloist at Radio City Music Hall. She has been a guest artist with the Baltimore Symphony, Kansas City Philharmonic, and Cincinnati Symphony orchestras. A member of Actors’ Equity Association, Rowan has appeared in more than 60 musicals. She has performed in New York City, as well as at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Maine State Theatre, Playhouse in the Park, Kansas City Civic Center, and Kansas City Starlight Theatre, to name a few. She has also appeared in numerous television commercials and was a regular on the PBS TV show "Consumer Survival Kit." Rowan performed at Lyric Theatre in Grand Hotel as the ballerina Grushinskaya and choreographed the Dream Ballet in Lyric’s production of "Oklahoma!" She has also produced her own children’s show, which toured throughout the northeastern United States. Rowan has taken The American Spirit Dance Company on tour in the U.S. as well as to Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, and China. Rowan has created dance instruction records, tapes, CDs, and videos on the Hoctor, Stepping Tones, and Statler labels. She was the chief researcher for "How To Make It In Musicals," Michael Allen’s authoritative book on developing a successful career as a musical theatre performer. Formerly ballet mistress of Dallas Ballet, Rowan has taught for all major dance organizations in the U.S. and has been invited to serve as an artist-in-residence for the state of Oklahoma. She has conducted master classes at the St. Louis and Detroit Tap Festivals, has toured America as the ballerina with Dance Olympus, has taught for Dance America and Boston Ballet, and has adjudicated for the North American Ballet Festival Competition in Boston and the State of Tennessee’s Individual Artist Fellowship Award in Dance-Choreography. In 2008, Rowan received the Oklahoma Chapter of the Association of Women in Communications Byliner Award in the arts category. She has been featured on the cover of Oklahoma Woman Magazine, and was honored by Oklahoma Hospitality Club as a “Lady in the News.” In 2010 Oklahoma Magazine named Rowan one of the “7 Incredible Women of Oklahoma.” Rowan received the St. Louis Tap Festival’s 2001 Preservationist Award and served as a spokesperson for National Dance Week for 2002, 2003, and 2004, alongside Ben Vereen, Fayard Nickolas, and Tommy Tune. Rowan was on the board of directors for the 2011 National Dance Week Committee. Rowan received Dance Teacher magazine’s National Dance Teacher of the Year in Higher Education Award and in 2004 was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame. In 2006, Rowan received the prestigious Flo-Bert Award, the “Tony of Tap,” in New York City, and the National Dance Masters of America President’s Award, presented in Las Vegas. She also received a proclamation from the president of the Borough of Manhattan for contributing “significantly to the cultural life of Manhattan and all of New York City.” In 2008, she received a coveted “Traditions in Tap Award" in New York City. In 2009, the National Association of Dance and Affiliated Artists presented her with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The Association of Dance Conventions and Competitions presented Rowan with its 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award. The Annie Oakley Society of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum presented Rowan with its 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award. OKC Friday included Rowan in its 2016 listing of the five most powerful women in the arts in Oklahoma and its 2017 listing of the 100 most powerful women in Oklahoma. In 2018, 2019 and 2020 Rowan was selected as one of the Journal Record's 50 Making a Difference during "The Woman of the Year" event. Rowan received the Governor's Arts Award in recognition of her longtime leadership and significant contributions to the arts across Oklahoma.



Oklahoma City University, under the leadership of Professor Jo Rowan, founded an American musical theatre dance program to educate and train performers for careers in the American entertainment industry. The program was also created to recognize the legitimacy of the American dance art forms of tap, jazz, and theater dance.

At that time, university and college dance programs uniformly focused on ballet and modern dance. Few, if any, dance programs required majors to study tap and jazz; and none offered specialization in tap and jazz leading to a bachelor's degree. Professor Rowan designed a degree which, with Dean John Bedford, has been refined over the years to give thorough preparation to students wanting dance performance careers in the American entertainment industry.


Dean Bedford developed an arts management program at Oklahoma City University for both graduate and undergraduate students. The general wisdom of the time in higher education was that arts management should be a field of study reserved for graduate students with the maturity and seriousness that undergraduates interested in the arts could not have. In 1985, the university trustees approved a new Bachelor of Science in Dance Management degree which now averages around 70 majors.

The Master of Business Administration with an Arts Management Track, established in 1984 in collaboration with the Meinders School of Business, provided graduate level education and training in both business and arts management. While the MBA with Arts Management Track was later discontinued due to restructuring in the Meinders School of Business, graduates from the program have worked for Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, Assembly of Community Arts Councils of Oklahoma, Pollard Theatre, Allied Arts, Ballet Oklahoma, Oklahoma City Philharmonic, BLAC, Inc., Nashville Symphony, the New York Philharmonic and other professional arts organizations.


A Bachelor of Science in Entertainment Business degree was created. Originally for students interested in careers in music business, the degree was modified to a general arts management degree allowing students to tailor a portion of the curriculum through a choice of specialty tracks to support their personal career objectives. The tracks include Sports Entertainment, Event Planning, Entertainment Marketing, Entertainment Tour Manager, Fashion Event Planner, Film Business, Church Arts Program Manager, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Political Events Manager, Entertainment Pre-Law, and Venue Management.


Professor Rachel Jacquemain joined the arts management faculty and was appointed director of the Entertainment Business program.


Dance Magazine’s Managing Editor, K.C. Patrick, declared the Oklahoma City University dance program as the “best preparatory dance program in the nation.”


The School of American Dance and Arts Management was renamed the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management honoring the Oklahoma City University trustee and benefactor.


A $3 million grant from the Inasmuch Foundation was combined with a $3.5 million contribution from Ann Lacy and a $750,000 contribution from the Mabee Foundation to make new facilities possible. Renovation and construction of the Edith Kinney Gaylord Center, the new home of the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management, was completed in the fall of 2007. The new facility for dance and arts management instruction was revalued at $28 million and was declared in the dance press as possibly the finest facility for dance in higher education in the world. Professor Melanie Shelley was appointed as Associate Dean of the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management.


Dance workshops were expanded to include four Saturday workshops during the regular school year for high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The first classes were offered in the Edith Kinney Gaylord Center’s new Community Dance Center.


Dean John Bedford and Dance Chair Jo Rowan announced their joint retirement from the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment. Bedford, the longtime dean of the dance school, and Rowan, the dance chair and founder of the dance program, marked the end of their 42-year tenures at the university on June 30. Associate Dean Melanie Shelley became interim dean and was named executive director in February 2023.  She worked closely with Bedford and Rowan to ensure a smooth transition and a continuation of excellence. 


Take a virtual tour of the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment!

In 2004, a $3 million grant from the Inasmuch Foundation was combined with a $3.5 million contribution from university trustee and benefactor Ann Lacy and a $750,000 contribution from the Mabee Foundation to make new facilities possible. Renovation and construction of the Edith Kinney Gaylord Center, the new home of the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment, was completed in the fall of 2007. The new facility for dance and arts management instruction was revalued at $28 million and was declared in the dance press as possibly the finest facility for dance in higher education in the world. The new facility includes:

  • 8 dance studios
  • Permanent barres outside of studios for stretching
  • Locker rooms with showers
  • Student lounges with televisions
  • Classrooms with flexible audio/visual technology
  • Atrium with natural light and indoor foliage
  • Wi-Fi throughout the three-story facility


Over the years, the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment has honored individuals who have contributed significantly to American dance and dance education through its Living Treasure in American Dance awards. Inspired by the Chinese tradition of honoring leading artists while they are still living, a number of living legends have traveled to the OCU campus to receive this special recognition.

Living Treasure Honorees

1989 - Tommy Sutton
1990 - Honi Coles
1991 - Al Gilbert
1992 - Gus Giordano
1993 - Buster Brown
1994 - Maceo Anderson
1995 - Peg Leg Bates
1998 - Jimmy Slyde
1998 - Dianne Walker
1999 - Cholly Atkins
2000 - Leonard Reed
2001 - Marion Coles & the Silver Bells:

  • Elanie Ellis
  • Cleo Hayes
  • Fay Ray
  • Bertye Lou Wood
  • Geraldine Rhodes-Kenney

2002 - Bunny Briggs
2002 - Jeni LeGon
2002 - Fayard Nicholas
2002 - Prince Spencer
2004 - Ernest "Brownie" Brown
2005 - Arthur Duncan
2007 - Deborah Mitchell

2011 - Debbi Dee

Other Honorary Awards

Lifetime Achievement in Dance Education Award Recipient:

Melba Huber (1993)

Arts Management Enterprise Award Recipients:

Art & Nancy Stone (2002)

1999 marked the inaugural presentation of the Preservation of our Heritage-American Dance Award. The Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment continues the recognition of those who have nurtured and supported American dance through their advocacy. Without these writers, historians and champions, the world would be less aware of the uniquely American dance forms and the artists who created, developed and evolved them. It is through the diligence and dedication of these committed supporters that American dance remains in the hearts and minds of the American public and the world.

Preservation of our Heritage Honorees

  • 1999 - Melba Huber
  • 1999 - Sali Ann Kriegsman
  • 2000 - Robert L. Reed
  • 2000 - Jacqui Malone
  • 2001 - Al Heyward
  • 2001 - Carl Schlesinger
  • 2002 - Art & Nancy Stone
  • 2003 - K.C. Patrick
  • 2006 - Patricia Goulding
  • 2008 - Lee Allen Smith
  • 2008 - Blake Wade
  • 2009 - Avi Miller
  • 2009 - Ofer Ben
  • 2009 - Germain Salsbeg

Oklahoma City University's School of American Dance and Entertainment presents Honorary Doctor of Performing Arts in American Dance degrees to dancers who have contributed significantly to the creation, development, preservation, and promotion of the American art form of tap.

"It does not surprise me that Oklahoma City University would lead the way in honoring these great performers," said national tap dance columnist Melba Huber. "Oklahoma City University, with the guidance of John Bedford and Jo Rowan, has become the premiere dance school in the world because of its recognition of the American art forms tap and jazz."

Honorary Doctorate Recipients

  • 1998 - David Howard
  • 2000 - Donald O'Connor
  • 2002 - Cholly Atkins
  • 2002 - Bunny Briggs
  • 2002 - Buster Brown
  • 2002 - Jeni LeGon
  • 2002 - Henry LeTang
  • 2002 - Fayard Nicholas
  • 2002 - Leonard Reed
  • 2002 - Jimmy Slyde
  • 2002 - Prince Spencer
  • 2008 - Arthur Duncan


We are excited to welcome students and their families onto campus! Campus visits are available Monday through Friday by appointment only.

Our admissions team offers a full campus tour and admission presentation daily at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Campus tours without admission presentations are conducted each day at noon. To schedule a campus visit, please call 405-208-5345.

Those interested in our three dance degree programs and the entertainment business program housed in the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment will be able to meet with Executive Director Melanie Shelley as schedules allow.

If you are not able to visit our campus currently, we encourage you to visit us virtually! One-on-one Zoom visits can be made with the executive director by emailing your availability to [email protected].



Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment
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