Connecticut College was known as the home of the American Dance Festival from 1948 to 1977. During that period, the college provided a ground for many well-known American artists to explore and create their works, which nurtured the development of contemporary dance in America.

New London was a center to its artists and changed the face of American contemporary art. During that period the Festival premiered some of the greatest 20th century American artists'works, which included: Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Eric Hawkins, Sophie Maslow, Jose Limòn, Alwin Nikolais, Merce Cunningham, Helen Tamaris, Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, Yvonne Rainer, Bella Lewitsky, Twyla Tharp, Laura Dean, Trisha Brown, Pilobolus among others, and premiered a total of one hundred-seventy three dances. In 1978, the American Dance Festival moved to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina where it has remained.

The dance department was founded in 1971 by the renowned Martha Myers, who led the department until 1992 and continued as dean of the American Dance Festival in North Carolina through the summer of 2000.

Lan-Lan Wang came from UCLA in 1994 and led the department as the chair person, redefined the department's philosophy and developed a new curriculum to best meet the changes of the 21st century. David Dorfman MFA '81, who describes his own Connecticut College education as "magic," returned to the campus as an associate professor of dance in 2004, and became department chair. His company, David Dorfman Dance, considered one of the most influential American contemporary dance companies for the past two decades, was permanently named company-in-residence at the College to beginning in Fall, 2007.

With the dance department's history and reputation in mind, we must look at dance not only in the context of a liberal arts education, but also in the broad scope of society and the world.