Susan Manning has pursued her research interest in dance studies, an emergent discipline within the humanities, by working through the more established fields of drama, theatre, and performance studies. As a Professor of English, Theatre and Performance Studies at Northwestern University, she teaches the history and theory of twentieth-century theatrical performance, including dance, drama, and music theatre.
She is the author or editor of four books: Ecstasy and the Demon (1993; 2nd ed. 2006) traces the shift from modernist bodies to fascist bodies in the works of Mary Wigman, Germany's leading dancer between the two world wars. Modern Dance, Negro Dance: Race in Motion (2004) explores changing relations between modern dancers and African-American concert dancers in New York City from the Red Decade of the 1930s to the Red Scare of the 1950s. Danses noires/blanche Amérique (2008), the catalogue for an exhibit she curated at the Centre national de la danse in Paris, narrates the history of African-American theatre dance in the U.S. from the era of Plessy v Ferguson to the election of Barack Obama. New German Dance Studies (2012) is a coedited anthology that surveys new research by scholars inside and outside Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Currently Professor Manning is serving as Principal Investigator for a Mellon-funded project on Dance Studies in/as the Humanities and as dramaturge for Reggie Wilson's new work scheduled to premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in fall 2013.
Manning received her B.A. from Harvard in 1978, where she pursued a student-designed major in dance studies, and her Ph.D. from Columbia in 1987, where she worked under the auspices of a cross-departmental program between English and Theatre. She has received research and writing grants from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Whiting Foundation, Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her books have won awards from the Dance Perspectives Foundation and the Congress on Research in Dance, and she received a Studs Terkel Award in 2006 from the Illinois Humanities Council for her outreach to the local dance and arts community. In 2013 she received a career-achievement award for outstanding research from the Congress on Research in Dance.
She has spent the entirety of her career at Northwestern, where she has served as Chair, Associate Chair, Director of Graduate Studies, and Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of English. She also has served as a member of the Executive Committee for the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Theatre and Drama (IPTD) for most of the last two decades, and she has directed graduate students under the auspices of the Department of Performance Studies and English as well as IPTD.
From 2005 to 2008 Manning served as president of the Society of Dance History Scholars, and in this capacity she also served as a delegate to the American Council of Learned Societies from 2004 to 2008.