Position: Director, Dance Teacher
Dance teacher Gretel Schatz invites everybody — and she means every body — into the NMH dance studio.
There, you find experienced dancers practicing a complex petit allegro or rehearsing a concert-length piece of choreography. But you’ll also see students with no formal movement background daring to try something new. Her hip-hop-style Dance for Athletes course, for example, is always highly enrolled. Gretel encourages students to use dance as an artistic medium to express themselves in the studios and onstage.
“Our dance curriculum is wide and deep, with beginning, intermediate, and advanced classes and dance companies for which students audition,” she says. “We have a melting pot of students with different techniques and from different traditions. And I have so much fun with all of them.”
She tries to diffuse any initial nervousness among students — especially those exploring dance for the first time — by allowing herself to be “goofy” and never asking students to do something she’s not willing to try herself. “I want all my students to feel that they’re an important part of the community. Whether they are working on a triple pirouette or just trying to find the down beat while walking across the floor, I’ve done my job only if they feel welcomed and comfortable.”
Gretel herself has felt at home in a dance studio since early childhood, learning jazz, tap, and ballet in her mother’s studio. Later she added training in modern and African dance, hip-hop, improvisation, and dance history, and after college dedicated herself to life as a teacher and artist.
In Gretel’s teaching and choreography, everything starts with the physical body. “I love thinking about how we are built anatomically and finding artistry in how we move,” she says. She choreographs work constantly for the NMH dance companies, using the dancers’ individual forms to, as she puts it, “paint in space.”
Gretel demands a lot of her students. “Technical proficiency and growth are important to me, but so is joy. You can execute, execute, execute movement like a robot, but if there’s no discovery or joy of expression in it, why do it? My philosophy as a teacher is to set high standards for my students and to make sure there is joy in what we do.”
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