The 2012 Dance Teacher Awards: Liz Schmidt

Training competition students in technique and character

In one week in January, Liz Schmidt got married and moved her studio, Spotlight Dance Works in Chesterfield, Michigan, to a new location, nearly doubling its space. While juggling teaching five days a week, choreographing over 60 competition routines, finding a new building and making wedding plans may seem like an impossible feat, multitasking comes naturally to Schmidt—she’s been doing it ever since she can remember.

Schmidt began taking classes at what was then Shelley’s Spotlight School of Dance at age 6, and in high school she started teaching her own classes and choreographing all of the competition numbers. When studio owner Shelley Amato asked Schmidt to take over at only 18 years old, it seemed like a natural progression.

The transition was quick. Schmidt attended the University of Michigan for a dance degree, as planned, and by the time she was a sophomore, she was running the entire artistic end of the studio. Though U of M was an hour away, she was at the studio several times per week and every weekend, and she eventually transferred to Wayne State University in Detroit to cut her commute in half.

After a few years as owner, she felt comfortable enough in her role to make some serious changes—she doubled the number of required technique classes for company members, hired a new roster of ballet teachers and sought out well-known guest teachers. The results followed. Her competition team has consistently placed among the top studios in the state at major competitions, and her dancers have won scholarships to summer intensives and colleges across the country. Her success is made even more impressive since Spotlight is one of 10 dance schools within a three-mile radius.

She’s often going up against (and beating) familiar faces at competitions, but Schmidt is known for her positive attitude. She maintains a good relationship with local studio owners by helping them throughout the year—choreographing a piece, teaching an occasional class or offering advice. “I have no reason not to keep things friendly,” she says. “And I teach the kids that when competing they also have to be nice.”

Though she loves competition, Schmidt focuses on technique, ultimately hoping her students will study dance in college and have concert dance careers. But she also realizes that they may not all continue dancing. “I want my students to do something with their own lives that makes them feel loved and important,” she says. “And I want them to keep loving dance. That’s all I can really ask for."


Photo by Mary Jo Graves, courtesy of Liz Schmidt

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