Sam Houston State University Department of Dance
Photo taken at Dr. Cindy Gratz's final hula class at the Alumni Reunion Weekend
A Big Thank You to
Dr. Cindy Gratz
Dancer l Educator l Artist l Mentor
SHSU Dance bids farewell to Professor Dr. Cindy Gratz after over two decades of dedicated teaching and guidance to so many students. The following is an interview between COFMAC Marketing Intern Alexis Andrei and Dr. Cindy Gratz about her time at Sam.
-How did you get started at SHSU?
I had just received my Ph.D. in Dance with a Performance Emphasis from NYU and was looking to get back to Texas from Manhattan. When the ad for the Sam Houston State University (SHSU) appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, I was thrilled! The SHSU Dance Program has a great reputation and I was also eager to get back to East Texas … land of my father’s roots. (Dad’s from Lone Pine, Texas, near Tennessee Colony). I remember I was teaching at a summer arts festival in a small college in Georgia when I got a phone interview for the position. I was living in Los Angeles when I got the call to come for an interview! I was so excited that I bought two new dresses for the interview!
-How many years did you work here?
I will have taught at Sam Houston State University for 22 years.
-What did you teach?
When I arrived as a young “whippersnapper”, I taught modern, ballet, folk and social dance, history, choreography, research methods, chaired 2 or 3 thesis projects per year, and even taught aerobics -- anything that was needed. Since then I have taught almost every course that we offer. I was the Advisor for the MFA Program in Dance from 2002-2012.
-What were some of your favorite shows that you produced?
The Prime Time Dancers have always had my heart. They are dancers who are AARP aged and older. I started working with older adults in New York City in 1985 – just filling in for a friend who couldn’t finish a two-month commitment. It was teaching dance at a kosher Jewish camp for seniors, outside of the city and when I met the dancers, I fell in love. Some had the remains of numbers still tattooed on their arms from the Holocaust. To me, they were living history. From then on I continued to work with older adults and formed the Prime Time Dancers of New York City. When I moved to Huntsville, I started the Prime Time Dancers here. We have enjoyed over 20 years of good times – dancing at civic events like “Fair on the Square” and the “General Sam Houston Folk Festival” and dancing twice a year at every nursing home and facility in the area. I will miss them a lot.
The other group that I enjoyed was my hula group. The SHSU Dance Program has always encouraged my interest in World Dance and I have been able to bring Polynesian dance as well as African, Flamenco, Irish Step, and East Indian dance to the campus. Having a little hula group together from 1990-2000 was terrific. We performed everywhere! And two of the members went on to compete at the Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawai’i.
My first sort of major success was with my solo concert: INSIGHTS: An Evening of Solo Dance and Video. I was still performing excerpts of that show around the country when I took the position here. I had made these commitments before I had even interviewed in Texas. Those tours were fun, although a little lonely. There is a big difference between traveling with a solo show and traveling with a company show. I guess the biggest show I ever toured with was Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. I was an elephant rider and showgirl. I loved the aerial work!
After the solo work, I concentrated more on choreography. I created a piece, Afterimages in 1992. We took it to the American College Dance Festival as an Informal Piece in 1993. It received so much feedback that we decided to take it as an Adjudicated Piece to Festival the following year. That was 1994. It was selected to be presented at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that year. Afterimages has been set on over 33 different schools, colleges, and dance companies since then. The final presentation of this work was in 2009 as part of our celebration for moving into the fabulous new James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center.
-Any memorable moments?
There are too many memorable moments to begin to share. Most have to do with my colleague, Professor Dana Nicolay. We have traveled to so many places together and been through so many changes. I was even his partner in a couple of pieces. Only Dana shares my memories of the Dance Program from 1991-1995. After that, things just seem to have gotten really busy. Those years, to me, were sort of the “glory days”. I guess because we survived them! So, in a strange way, it is Dana Nicolay who I will remember the most because he is the one with whom I share my oldest memories of dance at SHSU.
One very special moment was recently being honored by the Dance Alumni at their recent ARC Concert. They gave me a gorgeous silver plumeria (my favorite flower!) necklace that I will cherish. It just meant so much, coming from them. I get all teary just thinking about it.
-What are some interesting things about the dance program now?
Today, things have become relaxed and yet hugely vibrant. Jennifer Pontius has been our Coordinator since 2002-ish? And now she is the Chair. She holds a gentle, charm over us that keeps up happy and organized. Our newest faculty members, Andy and Dionne Noble are phenomenal. The growth since their arrival in the students’ technique, choreography, and overall excitement about concert dance has been thrilling to watch. For me, their expertise in performance and choreography left me more room to delve into Dance as Art, Dance History, and of course World Dance. These are my favorite courses now and I love teaching them in person and online.
What was your biggest honor or award?
In 2010 I received the Dance Teacher Award for Higher Education from Dance Pointe Magazine. It was amazing. I was targeted for my efforts in World Dance by Houston Dance Reviewer, Nancy Wozny. Based on her nomination and an investigation of my Vita, I was selected. The ceremony was held at the NYC Hilton Hotel. The Duke Ellington Orchestra (directed by Paul Mercer Ellington) played LIVE! I will never forget walking across that stage, in New York City, to receive this prestigious award. while the Duke Ellington Orchestra played Satin Doll