First Majors Dancing to Graduation

group of dancers on a dark stage

April 09, 2020
Kristy Montoya ('21)

Dancers can bodily express what they feel when words don’t seem to be enough.

An integral aspect of Gonzaga’s mission is the development of “the whole person – intellectually, spiritually, culturally, physically, and emotionally.” Dance is one of the mediums through which all those intersect.

When the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center opened in spring 2019, it expanded the capacity for student learning and performance, and opened up a new world of opportunities for the arts at Gonzaga more broadly. The Center also made it possible for Gonzaga’s dance program to host the American Collegiate Dance Association 2020 northwest conference, bringing together performers from nearly 30 universities to present work, learn new styles of dance and see the renowned Mark Morris Dance Group in the opening concert.

dancers leaping on stage at Woldson PAC 

After such a leap forward in its opportunities for students, the Dance program celebrates the graduation of its first cohort of dance majors in May 2020: six seniors who have shown exceptional dedication and an aptitude for balance in their busy lives.

“They leave not only as stronger dancers, but also as community builders, leaders, and artists.” 
Suzanne Ostersmith, director since 2000

Suzanne Ostersmith, who developed the dance minor in 2005, notes that much of the progress has been student-driven, and now that the performing arts center addresses what has always been the primary challenge – adequate space – exceptional dance students at Gonzaga have equally exceptional facilities available for both scholarly endeavors and creative expression.

Life of a Dance Scholar

What makes dance stand out as an academic discipline? It’s the physical demands on top of the standard classroom learning endeavors. Mastering a single concert work takes hours of dedicated practice. There’s no way around it, no such thing as a shortcut to perfection. Yet, students take on this commitment with passion and pride while still managing to complete the homework of a regular course load. In the classroom, they study dance history, pedagogy and anatomy. During the summer of 2019, participants had the rewarding opportunity to study and perform in Florence, at some of Italy’s most regal and historic venues. “Studying and touring in Italy taught me so much about what life as a professional dancer will look like,” says Sydney Skinner (’20).

two dancers in dramatic pose 

For those interested in careers in dance, Gonzaga provides exposure to the professional sphere in performance, pedagogy and arts management. For those not looking to perform on stage after graduation, they gain tools and confidence to continue benefiting from dance in other ways.

“The skills I have developed from dance, responsibility to a community, hard work, collaboration, creativity I can use no matter what career I go into,” says Audrey Parks ('20), ACDA student conference coordinator. “Physical care and expression are important in life.” 

Students apply important skills learned in the classroom in programs like ZagDance, a free after-school dance program; Dance Presents!, first-hand experience producing professional concerts in the new Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center; and Dance for Parkinson’s weekly classes for the community. 

“I fully plan to continue to teach Dance for Parkinson’s wherever I end up!” declares Helen Schantz ('20).  “While it will be hard to leave Gonzaga and specifically the Dance Program, I know I am taking so much with me in the form of skills, experiences, relationships and memories.”

The Gonzaga dance program has become home for many students, who have formed a family over the course of semesters busy with rehearsals and performance schedules.

“We celebrate senior students in a big way and are sorry the usual methods of performance and social gatherings are not possible this year,” says Ostersmith. “Seeing this first cohort of senior dance major graduate will be emotional,” says Ostersmith, “but sending them out into the world to employ all the wonderful skills they’ve learned is part of the journey.”

female dancer in historic flowing dance gown

Congrats, Gonzaga Dance Majors, Class of 2020

Kaylee Bosse – Writes “Tiny Dancer” Blog, President of Boundless Student Dance Club
Alyssa Drinkwine – Performed at ACDA Freshmen year, Dance Team
Kelsey Moran – ACDA Ambassador, Student Director of Musical Theatre Dance Review
Audrey Parks – ACDA Student Conference Coord., Choreographer Romeo and Juliet
Helen Schantz – Dance for Parkinson’s, Löie Fuller Research Performer, ZagDance presenter
Sydney Skinner – ACDA Ambassador, Gonzaga Repertory Dance Company, Bomb Squad