COLUMBIA, S.C. ― The dance program at the University of South Carolina now bears the name of one of the university’s first dance majors, an accomplished ballet dancer from a loyal Gamecock family.
The Board of Trustees voted Friday, October 13, to name the program the Betsy Blackmon Dance Program in memory of Elizabeth “Betsy” Blackmon, a member of the Class of 2007. Recognized by Dance Magazine as one of the top non-conservatory programs in the country, South Carolina’s program combines a rigorous dance classroom and studio environment with the depth and breadth of a superior liberal arts education.
The program’s new name recognizes a major gift that Blackmon’s parents, Tommy and Jane Suggs, made to expand opportunities for dance students and faculty.
“Through this gift, Tommy and Jane Suggs will impact every dance student who passes through our halls,” said Joel Samuels, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “We are honored to carry forward Betsy’s legacy by supporting future generations of USC students who share her love for dance.”
The donors, longtime supporters of the University of South Carolina, wanted to make a gift that would impact students and continue Blackmon’s legacy.
“We are making this gift in memory of our beloved daughter Betsy, who was an avid supporter of the arts and dance,” said Tommy Suggs.
“The dance program at the University of South Carolina made a lasting impact on Betsy’s life and our hope is this gift continues to help the program grow and thrive in her honor,” said Jane Suggs.
The gift will support new opportunities for dance students and faculty. It will create a new, professional-track faculty position to teach at least four classical ballet classes each year. In addition, the Betsy Blackmon Professorship in Dance will be awarded to an excellent faculty member.
The gift also will bring guest artists to campus to teach and perform through the Susan E. Anderson Artist in Residence Series, named for the longtime dance professor and founder of the program, who worked closely with Blackmon.
“It is an honor to receive this gift from Betsy's family," said Stephanie Milling, a professor of dance and chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. “Through this generous donation, the dance program will be able to honor the legacy of one of our first dance graduates by engaging with prestigious dance artists in the field and honoring the excellence of our outstanding dance faculty.”
Blackmon was an avid dancer from an early age, and she attended the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities under the direction of Stanislav Issaev before graduating from A.C. Flora High School. After beginning her collegiate career at the University of Mississippi, she returned home to South Carolina when USC launched its Bachelor of Arts in dance. She was one of the first graduates of the program in 2007.
Blackmon also attended Brenau University’s School of Interior Design, after which she worked in design. She eventually started her own firm, “Substance and Style,” and designed residential interiors and commercial spaces in Los Angeles, Atlanta and the Carolinas.
She died from cancer in 2018, a few weeks before her 34th birthday.
Blackmon’s family has deep ties with the University of South Carolina and with Gamecock athletics. Tommy Suggs was a championship quarterback who received his business administration degree in 1971. Before long, he was back at Williams-Brice Stadium, this time as the color commentator. He has been a part of Gamecock football radio broadcasts for more than 50 years. He and his wife, Jane Suggs, have been involved with or led many philanthropic efforts for the university.