Alumni Spotlight

Lisa Burnett, '74, MA '76

Burnett holds a master’s degree in dance education from the School of Education, which offered the program from the early 1970s to 2003. She teaches modern dance in Palo Alto and Pilates and Shiatsu to the Stanford community through the School of Medicine’s Health Improvement Program.


I had never danced until my junior year at Stanford. I was kind of a tomboy.  Growing up in Salt Lake City, I played tennis, swam and rode horses.

But I had a freshman roommate who was a dancer. She studied at Stanford with Inga Weiss, a modern dancer and a German émigré who had studied with the great expressionist dancer Mary Wigman. My roommate would come home from class at 6 energized. She would try to teach me the moves going down the hall. It was so compelling. The difficulty of getting your body to do what you see being done is much more complicated than someone who doesn’t dance could ever imagine. They say it takes 10 years to become a dancer. But I think that’s just the beginning of it.

In junior year, I went to Roble Gym and began taking class from Inga Weiss.

After studying with Inga for a couple of years, I can remember a special moment in class – a move Inga called “the picket fence.”  She was in front of me as I was going down the floor (which was energizing and terrifying all by itself) and with great intensity she pointed a finger at my passe and she said, “That’s it!”  

A thrilling moment for me!  You’re not thinking any more and you’re in the moment and this thing has just been created by you. And, poof, it’s gone.  But the experience has changed you on the inside.

Inga Weiss, foreground, in 1974 with Elizabeth Weinberg and Jeanine Prowse, students in the School of Education's then-new dance education master's program.
Chuck Painter/Stanford News Service

Just before I graduated in HumBio in 1974, the School of Education opened a program that would allow me to continue to study with Inga.

I don’t know why they let me in, but they did. I wanted to study with her and that was all that mattered. I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher then. I was just struck by her fire. Her integrity. Her intelligence. Her elegance.

Our final project was a concert. I did an afternoon program with three dances I choreographed. Then off to the outside world. 

First I taught in local junior colleges, then Santa Clara University,  while also studying ballet every day. I studied and performed with modern dancer Aaron Osborne in San Francisco. Then I got an MFA in 1986 at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, with Larry Rhodes. When Aaron retired, I taught at Oberlin Dance Collective in San Francisco till I had my son Wyatt. Returning from NYU, I started teaching at Zohar in Palo Alto and have been there for 32 years.I’ve been with HIP for 12+ years, and have been fortunate to grow a Pilates practice in my home with 42 clients.

Weiss performing in undated photo.
Courtesy of Inga Weiss
Last September, Inga fell and was injured. During her convalescence, a group of us who are still very close to each other through the MA program came from near and far for a visit with her. When she was a teacher, she never talked about her career or her private life. She focused on the work we were doing. Surrounded by her wonderful students last September, prompted by a wonderful collection of pictures from her time with Wigman and beyond, she told us stories of her life that we had never heard.  What a rich and inspiring visit!

Our degrees in dance education have been enormously helpful in bringing dance as a respected discipline to places it had never been before. It’s a testament to Inga’s charisma, as well as to her talent, that she was able to help create this degree with Elliot Eisner and John Nixon. The women and men from this group have branched out from the program and have excelled in a variety of ways, sharing their knowledge as dancers, teachers, designers and arts administrators.

Inga Weiss in September 2017 with former students, from left, Eugenia Haney, MA ’80; Diane Waller, '78, MA ’78; Leslee Lewis, ’76, MA ’80; Julienne Weston, MA ’80; and Lisa Burnett, '74, MA '76.
Top image: Lisa Burnett in the studio.