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Dr. Dance: Fishing Icon Receives Prestigious Honor

Honorary degree from beloved UT celebrates Bill Dance's decades of impact on Tennessee, sport of fishing.

Dr. Dance: Fishing Icon Receives Prestigious Honor

Bill Dance, or simply Dr. Dance, received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Tennessee in Natural Resources. (Photo courtesy of University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

Bill Dance, the fishing legend who once thought of being a medical doctor before he became one of America’s favorite fishermen, can now go by Dr. Dance.

That honor came about last weekend when the University of Tennessee made that official by awarding Dance an honorary Doctorate of Natural Resources degree from UT’s Herbert College of Agriculture.

As only the 21st such honorary doctorate ever awarded by UT Knoxville, Dance received the degree in part because of his decades of fishing instruction, television presence, tournament success and being an angling ambassador for Tennessee, home to some of the best bass fishing in the nation.

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Bill Dance, a household name in the angling world, with his honorary Doctorate of Natural Resources degree from UT’s Herbert College of Agriculture.

While they may be unaccustomed to seeing Dance in the academic regalia and doctoral cap worn during graduation ceremonies, fans of Outdoor Sportsman Group programming are certainly no strangers to the sight of Dance—with his trademark mesh cap with the big orange T for his favorite college sports program—who has entertained and educated America's bass-fishing crowd for years.


The UT Institute of Agriculture tweeted this in celebration of Dance's honorary degree: "Congrats 'Dr. Bill Dance!' The sports & TN icon was awarded an honorary doctorate from @UT_Herbert. Proudly sporting his UT cap for decades on TV, Bill is a true ambassador for UT & we're honored to have him as our friend! @UTIA_SVP @UT_President @UTSystemNews @Bill_Dance1"

Dance has become a household name in the angling world, having built an unparalleled career that has taken him to soaring heights in the sport, places few others have reached.

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Bill Dance (left), shown with his honorary doctorate degree from the University of Tennessee, is pictured with Bass Prop Shops founder Johnny Morris. (Bill Dance Instagram)

Known for his trademark cap with the big orange T for his beloved Tennessee Volunteers, Dance has caught every kind of fish imaginable in North America as he has filmed his popular TV show Bill Dance Outdoors, a longtime staple in outdoors programming. The show began on the ABC affiliate in Memphis, Tenn., back in 1968 and hasn't stopped airing since.

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Bill Dance with family and friends after receiving an honorary doctorate degree in Natural Resources from the University of Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of UT)

Fans of OSG programming are certainly familiar with the smiling face of Dance, whose shows--including one about his love of saltwater fishing--have graced the lineups of Outdoor Channel and World Fishing Network for years, the two spots where America's oldest and longest continuous running TV fishing show now resides.


Lifetime of Successes

Those who enjoy competitive bass fishing are equally familiar with Dance's legendary resume, one that saw him become a household name back in the 1960s and 1970s as Ray Scott's Bass Angler Sportsman's Society tournament trail took off. A fact not many angling fans know is that Dance is credited with catching the first bass in B.A.S.S. competition back in 1967 at the All-American Bass Tournament. He caught plenty more after that.

In what was a relatively brief professional tournament career, Dance captured seven of the first 17 B.A.S.S. events he entered, won three Angler of the Year titles (1970, 1974, and 1977) in less than a decade, and nearly captured the 1973 Bassmaster Classic.

As bass fishing became a national obsession in the 1970s and catch-and-kill stringers gave way to catch-and-release fishing, Dance was the sport of professional bass fishing.

All of those career accolades, from a sterling tournament fishing career to 50-plus years of appearing on TV screens nationwide, have earned Dance plenty of honors along the way. Those include seven Hall of Fame inductions, including the National Freshwater Hall of Fame in 1986, the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2001, the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 2006, and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

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OSG writer Lynn Burkhead (center) grew up in the Memphis, Tenn. area watching Bill Dance Outdoors on a local TV channel. He became a lifelong fan of Dance and has never been bashful in getting a selfie made with one of his angling heroes. Here, Burkhead grabbed such a photo at a recent ICAST show with Dance (left) and Kevin VanDam (right). (Photo by Jeff Phillips)

Having learned to fish from his father and grandfather and having guided millions—including his own children and wife, Dianne—into enjoying the sport by way of his TV programming, authorship of several fishing books, and countless magazine articles and Internet stories featuring his angling wisdom and instruction, the Tennessee angling legend’s style has made him beloved by generations of American anglers.

That includes yours truly, who grew up as a young boy loving bass fishing in the Memphis area, where watching Dance's weekly television show was must-see programming for myself and my late Dad, also named Bill. Suffice it to say that when the opportunity came to meet Dance through my own career path, that was one autograph and one selfie that I eagerly sought out.




Easy-Going Presence

Many of us have loved Dance for his trademark Tennessee hat and easy-going presence on the front deck of a bass boat as he turned complex ideas into easy-to-use, on-the-water angling knowledge for multiple game fish species. Others have enjoyed the jokes and self-deprecating style of humor that has led to countless fans and friendships with some of the sport's most legendary figures, like Roland Martin, Jimmy Houston, Homer Circle, Johnny Morris, and Kevin VanDam to name a few.

And still others love the laugh-a-minute antics that Dance has offered through the years, including his wildly popular fishing bloopers series that shows while others may take Dance pretty seriously, he most certainly does not.

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Bill Dance, who received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Tennessee this past weekend—only the 21st such honorary degree ever given out by UT Knoxville—has built a legion of passionate fans over the years who have been wowed by his tournament angling and television show hosting career. A longtime staple on OSG platforms, Bill Dance Outdoors began on a Memphis TV station back in 1968 and has run ever since, much to the delight of millions. Here, Dance signs an autograph for a fan at the 2019 ICAST trade show in Orlando. (Photo by Lynn Burkhead)

With all that Dance is known for and beloved for in his unparalleled angling career, Bill added yet one more chapter to a resume like none other just a few days ago when he received the honorary doctorate degree from the University of Tennessee during UT’s spring commencement ceremonies.

The honorary degree was announced by the crew of Bill Dance Outdoors recently by way of Dance's various social-media platforms and channels:

"Is there a doctor in the house?! Bill's been fortunate to have received many different awards, from 7 Hall of Fames to the IGFA Conservation Award. In the past 200+ years only 21 honorary doctorate degrees have been bestowed by the University of Tennessee, Bill being the most recent. To hear him say it, this is his second best catch of his lifetime, his wife Dianne being his #1 and BEST! His entire family, dear friends and many of his sponsors joined him in Knoxville this past weekend to see him accept this prestigious honor. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Bill Dance!"

Barely more than 13 hours later, more than 11,600 likes had been recorded by Facebook alone, along with more than 1,000 comments and 805 shares coming in the short time frame.


Well Done, Dr. Dance!

Clearly, Dance’s popularity continues, as congratulations and well wishes came in from such notable fishing industry figures as Kelly Jordon, the Texas angling pro who was the first angler to win B.A.S.S., FLW and Major League Fishing tour-level competitions; Clark Wendlandt, the reigning 2020 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year; and Steve Pennaz, a Hall-of-Fame angler known for his Lake Commandos TV show on Sportsman Channel.

Fans of Dance’s fishing career were also quick to offer their own congratulatory comments on social media, including Amanda Beth Quint, who wrote: Omgosh! Congrats Dr. Dance, Bassologist."

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Bill Dance answers media questions after receiving an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

Another comment came from Dale Mashburn, who wrote: "Congratulations. The Dr has gone fishing."

And still another comment came from Jeff Payne, who said: "Doctor Dance...Fish Communicator, Professor of Ponds, Dean of Drop Shot, Counselor of

Catch. Congrats Mr. Dance! This makes the entire industry smile."

Indeed it does, indeed it does.

Congratulations Dr. William G. Dance—we continue to be amazed at your stellar angling career and your humble willingness to share it and help us all learn along the way.

The fishing industry can't wait to see where your career takes you next. Well done Dr. Bill, well done!

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