people dancing on a stage wearing blue outfits
Ruegamer (front right) creates community through dance at Wellesley and beyond.
Photo provided by Denis Boisvert

Creating Communities That Move: Slater’s Tana Ruegamer’s Hidden Talent

Cheryl Minde ’24
September 29, 2021

When Tana D. Ruegamer, director of Wellesley’s Slater International Center and international student and scholar advisor, was six, her mother enrolled her in tap and jazz dancing lessons. As a very (very) shy child, Ruegamer was uncomfortable communicating verbally, but through pivot turns, steps, and rhythmic strikes on the dance floor in her silver-soled tap shoes, she learned, as her mother had hoped she would, how to express herself through movement. Ruegamer, who grew up in Montana, danced throughout high school and college, and later started teaching at a studio in Cambridge, M.A. That’s where she met her husband, Frank, whose dance background included Peruvian folkloric dance and salsa dancing.

When Ruegamer started at Wellesley three years ago, she taught a few sessions of salsa dancing at the Slater International Center because she wanted to offer something different, “a little part of myself that maybe students wouldn’t see on the day to day,” as well as create a community with the center’s executive board and students. Once it is safe to do so again, she is hoping to work with students to reduce their stress and anxiety and improve their mental health through dance. “For our international students and scholars, it has been a difficult time with unique circumstances like immigration travel bans, slow vaccine rollouts in many countries, borders closing…unimaginable things,” said Ruegamer. “I think all of us can learn how to recenter, and movement can be one of those really amazing ways to do that.”

Ruegamer said dance helps her and her husband maintain work-life balance: “We both have careers, and then after 5 o’clock we look toward dancing. It’s all about learning how to separate things from a stressful day.” Dance helps her with everyday work tasks, too, like giving presentations to students or senior leadership.“I feel like I can ground into the moment with the experiences I have learned through dance, with the techniques,” she said. “I feel like I am able to express myself verbally and nonverbally. It’s not that I’m dancing on stage, but it is that dance has enhanced my presence in front of others and my speech.” 

“Dance explodes with inclusivity. When you dance you are sharing, sharing joy.”

Tana Ruegamer, director of Slater International Center

Ruegamer said that just as athletes learn to both lead a team and to follow and work together with others, people can dance together and lead, follow, or do both. And it doesn’t matter whether you have two left feet or you’re unfamiliar with the steps, she said. You don’t need to talk or even keep your eyes open! At the end of the day, dance is about how “beautiful it is to get back in touch with the essence of moving, with yourself, and with self-expression.”

This past summer, a dance colleague asked Ruegamer and her husband to be part of a music video being recorded in Providence, R.I. They had only 36 hours to learn the choreography, but their extensive training and experience allowed them to learn quickly and perform with their colleague and her group. Participating in the music video was a powerful moment for Ruegamer and Frank, she said. They hadn’t danced with others for over a year and a half. “It was really inspirational to work with the music, work with the director, and work with the choreographer and be a part of something that was greater than ourselves,” she said.

For Ruegamer, dance goes beyond movement and is all about connection with one’s self and with community. Dance brings people together from all over the world, from various cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, and all genders, sexualities, and abilities. “Dance explodes with inclusivity,” Ruegamer said. “When you dance you are sharing, sharing joy.”