Thinking on Her Feet

Samantha Gaitsch

James Byard/WUSTL Photos

Samantha Gaitsch, a senior majoring in dance and in psychology, both in Arts & Sciences, performed this spring with company-in-residence The Slaughter Project at Edison Theatre at Washington University in St. Louis. Below, she talks how she has balanced dance with her life as a student in her four years on campus.

You’re a double-major in dance and psychology, with a minor in visual art. You’ve also served as a residential advisor for two years and as a student liaison to the Performing Arts Department, among other commitments. How do you balance those interests and responsibilities? How do they connect?

I think dance has helped me train as a person — in terms of discipline, time management, taking constructive criticism, interacting with other people, and taking time for self-care. In psychology, you definitely learn things about personal health and wellness that apply to dance as well. Often, I see classmates not getting nearly enough sleep and I think, “I can’t risk that,” because I can’t risk getting injured.

As an RA and student liaison, I’m learning to be assertive — nicely assertive! (Laughs). I’ve also realized that everyone has their “quirks,” things they’re dealing with, things affecting them …

It all ties into the psychology major. I hope I can help people and actually make a difference.

Is working in a professional context different from working on student shows?

Definitely. With Washington University Dance Theatre, for instance, you begin with formal auditions, then you learn one piece in two-hour blocks over the course of the semester, culminating in a performance in Edison Theatre. It’s easy to maintain a student mindset during that process. With Cecil (Slaughter, who heads The Slaughter Project), we are expected to have a professional mindset. He pushes us. He expects us to bring our own sense of artistry to every rehearsal, no matter what exams we may have to study for that night. He’ll say things like ‘Do everything we just learned, in retrograde’ just to see how we respond.

It’s very challenging, but it also forces you to adapt, and think on your feet. I’ve grown so much as a dancer, thanks to The Slaughter Project.

You’ve studied jazz dance, modern, contemporary, ballet, tap, hip-hop … Which is your favorite?

Probably tap and jazz. I’m naturally kind of a ham, and both of my parents are musicians. I love the idea of making music as you move.


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