Emma Lewis Thomas

Emma Lewis Thomas, b. August 4, 1932 – d. September 16, 2021

Dr. Emma Lewis Thomas, PhD was born and raised in Charleston, WV and died after a brief battle with lymphoma at her home in Livingston, MT. She was surrounded by her six grandchildren - Keegan Nashan, Cole Nashan, Emersyn Nashan, Andrew Arnold, Eolyne Arnold, and Roselyn Arnold - as well as her son Jeffrey P. Nashan (Kieran Nashan) and daughter Erica L. Nashan (James K. Arnold). Her siblings Andrew Stephen Thomas III and Marnie Thomas Wood join us in celebrating her life. She is received in eternity by her son Michael Andrew Nashan, sister Betty Thomas Rahv, and parents Marian Pope Thomas and Andrew S. Thomas Jr.

Emma Lewis loved the outdoors and spent the years of her youth hunting, fishing and camping while growing up among many beloved cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents in the Appalachian Mountains. She eventually climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, as traveling the world to learn about other cultures was a lifelong pursuit. She graduated from Dana Hall School, received degrees from Duke University, the Sorbonne as a Fulbright scholar in Paris, Indiana University, and studied at the Free University of Berlin, where she was a member of the Mary Wigman Dance Company.

She taught at Sweet Briar College, Augsburg College, and Holy Cross College before joining UCLA. She taught for over 35 years at UCLA, with a longstanding commitment to the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance through her teaching, research, enriching the department by bringing prominent guests to campus, and service, included serving as Associate Dean of the School of the Arts and Architecture for several years. She officially retired in 1998 but remained active in the field. WACD’s Interim Chair Angelia Leung noted: “Lew’s work at UCLA was extremely important to her, as was her connection to her students whose work she followed and promoted for decades.”

Her dance company, Balliamo, toured Europe and the US. She was a frequent artist-in-residence at several international institutions, and was an active member of the International Brecht Society, the Modern Language Association, the American Association of Teachers of German and the American Dance Guild. She was an early contributing member of the Society of Dance History Scholars (now Dance Studies Association), an international organization advancing innovative analyses of dance by promoting diverse approaches and a globally inclusive, respectful dialogue in the dance field and various related disciplines. She published numerous articles, most recently served as Immediate Past President for the Lula Washington Dance Theatre, and collaborated with some of the most influential dancers and theatre directors of her time.

Emma Lewis was uncompromising in her devotion to education and the arts, community service, and her family, whom she loved, supported and encouraged to strive for excellence at all times.