Thinking on her feet

Class Acts: Samantha Gaitsch

Samantha Gaitsch in action
Samantha Gaitsch, a senior majoring in dance and in psychology in Arts & Sciences, prepares for a busy April. (Credit: James Byard/WUSTL PhotoS (3))

Samantha Gaitsch, a senior majoring in dance and in psychology, both in Arts & Sciences, will perform with
company-in-residence The Slaughter Project at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 4, at Edison Theatre on the Danforth Campus of Washington University in St. Louis. Below, she talks about the upcoming performances and how she has balanced dance with her life as a student in her four years on campus.

You’ve performed in Washington University Dance Theatre (WUDT) and created works for Young Choreographers Showcase. This month, you’re co-directing the 2015 Student Dance Showcase. Talk about your responsibilities there.

In the early stages of Student Dance Showcase, it’s a lot of organizing. I worked with my co-director Deborah Li to set dates, figure out the budget, specify what’s needed in terms of studio space and technical equipment, and host a series of auditions. Then, we work with the choreographers, decide when things are due and arrange help-sessions about lighting design, among other things. We also train two assistants, both underclassmen, so they can run the show, if they choose to, in 2017.

I’ll also be performing in four pieces, including a solo I’ve choreographed about dealing with injuries. Dancers kind of build up a tolerance to pain. … We compensate, we fake it, but eventually we have to learn to take care of ourselves.

Student Dance Showcase takes place April 9-11, but on April 4 you’re performing in “RELEASE,” a concert by company-in-residence The Slaughter Project. Is working in a professional context different from working on student shows?

Definitely. With WUDT, 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’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.

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.

About The Slaughter Project and Student Dance Showcase

“The Slaughter Project: RELEASE” begins at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 4, in Edison Theatre. Tickets are $20 or $15 for students and seniors and $10 for WashU students. Tickets are available at the Edison Theatre Box Office. For more information, click here.

“Step, Turn, Leap! Student Dance Showcase 2015″ begins at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 9, 10 and 11, in the Annelise Mertz Dance Studio. Tickets are $8, or $5 for mat seating on the floor, and will be available at the door. For more information, email or

Both Edison Theatre and the Annelise Mertz Dance Studio are located in Mallinckrodt Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd.