The 2010 Dance Teacher Awards: Cindy Gratz

Cindy Gratz broadened the Sam Houston State University world dance program.CINDY GRATZ

Sam Houston State University

Huntsville, Texas

Cindy Gratz grew up immersed in both academia and ethnic dance. While her father was teaching at the University of Hawaii, Gratz followed her mother off to hula classes, studying with master teacher Kumu Hula Nona Beamer. Her mother, Sara Carpenter, an emeritus faculty member of Southern Illinois University/Edwardsville and a Mexican-American, also immersed her in folklórico. “My mother was teaching world dance when it was not cool,” she says. When the family moved back to the mainland, Gratz’s mother took her to Katherine Dunham’s class in East St. Louis. “I went kicking and screaming,” remembers the Texas native. “I wanted to do tap, jazz and ballet like every other kid.”

Fortunately, Gratz was not like every other kid. “At 10, I told people that I wanted to go to UCLA, then NYU and then teach at a university in Texas,” she says. “Except for a short stint in the circus, that’s pretty much exactly what I did.” (Gratz rode elephants for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus in 1977. “You have to have something to tell your grandchildren,” she says.) Now, as a professor at Sam Houston State University, she takes a broad approach to teaching dance, considering context, historical roots and multiple influences.

When she arrived at SHSU in 1991, she brought her world dance experience right into the curriculum. “They had a class that combined folk and social dances, which was a start,” says Gratz, who expanded the program to include several world dance forms. “You cannot learn the dance without learning the culture. So if we are learning the Cotton-Eyed Joe, a Texas form, we have to address the polka rhythms and Native American lineage of the dance.” She continually adds new forms, from Tahitian to Bharatanatyam, depending on the ever-shifting interests and backgrounds of the student body.

“There is no one form of dance that is better than another; we honor all forms here,” says Gratz’s boss, Jennifer Pontius, associate professor and dance coordinator. “Cindy has been a large part of that effort with the work she has brought here in world dance.”

A car accident in 2006 left Gratz with a spinal cord injury and limited movement in her arms. After two years of rehabilitation, two new hips and a new knee, she’s nearly back to full capacity. “I am like the bionic, metallic woman,” she says. “Hula was really helpful in getting my range back.”

In addition to her role at SHSU, Gratz continues to develop her own choreography, often based in social issues. She also works with older adults in Prime Time, a component of her company, Texas World Dance Company, which has been going strong since 1988.

Supervising MFA students’ thesis projects is part of her job at SHSU. “Helping students manifest their ideas is so fulfilling,” she says. She’s also a stickler for editing and requires that composition students cut a 30-minute dance down to three minutes, while maintaining the essence of the dance. “They learn a lot about filler, and honesty,” she says. “She has a gift for making students find their place in dance,” says Pontius. “We are not all going to be in a dance company. She opens doors to other possibilities in dance or in themselves.”

“When I hear students coming out of a dance class saying, ‘Wow, what a great teacher,’ I smile,” Gratz says. “But when they come out of a studio saying, ‘Wow, what a great class,’ I am delighted. This is what I strive to do, provide good classes with focus on the topic, enhanced by humor and memorable anecdotes. The credit should go to the subject. I am just the messenger.”

Photo by Julian Grandberry, courtesy of Cindy Gratz

Teachers Trending
Marcus Ingram, courtesy Ingram

"Water breaks are not Instagram breaks."

That's a cardinal rule at Central Virginia Dance Academy, and it applies even to the studio's much beloved social media stars.

For more than a decade, CVDA has been the home studio of Kennedy George and Ava Holloway, the 14-year-old dancers who became Instagram sensations after posing on the pedestal of Richmond's Robert E. Lee Monument. Clad in black leotards and tutus, they raise their fists aloft to depict a global push for racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Teacher Voices
Photo courtesy Rhee Gold Company

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a shift in our community that is so impressive that the impact could last long into our future. Although required school closures have hit the dance education field hard, what if, when looking back on this time, we see that it's been an incredible renaissance for dance educators, studio owners and the young dancers in our charge?

How could that be, you ask?

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.