Professor shares dance journey
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In an environment that is constantly pushing science and math based careers, Catey Ott Thompson, adjunct instructor in the College of Communication, proves that it pays to follow one’s dreams.
Ott Thompson started her college career at Marquette University studying journalism. After two years of running from ballet classes, to academic classes, and then on to a studio downtown for more dancing, she realized that her energy and passion could be better used elsewhere. With a renewed sense of purpose, she found herself studying modern dance at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“Some of the dancers that I worked with over summers kept asking if I had ever considered modern dance instead of ballet,” Ott Thompson said. “Kind of on a wing and a prayer, I left Marquette and went to UWM.”
It was this decision that would shape the rest of Ott’s career. Post-graduation, she moved to New York City and used her connections in Milwaukee to find work on the East Coast. She spent the next decade dancing and creating choreography with various companies, taking a three-year hiatus to pursue her master’s degree in dance back at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The research she did for that graduate program led to the founding of the Catey Ott Dance Collective, her own dance company based in Milwaukee.
The company is now in its eleventh year of business and runs half a dozen shows a year.
On Sunday, August 28, the dancers performed “Celestial Wisdom on Earth,” at the Milwaukee Fringe Festival, a two-day series of fine arts performances hosted in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
“Celestial Wisdom on Earth” started as two separate pieces entitled “Woods Enchanted” and “Selfie Versus True Self”. Through a year of collaboration with her dancers, Ott Thompson used the two pieces and original choreography from the dancers to create the final hour long show.
For the first time in her teaching and directing career, Ott Thompson let Elisabeth Roskopf, a member of the company for four years, create a completely self-choreographed solo as a part of the final performance.
“As a performer, I like to show pieces of myself and who I am to the world,” Roskopf said.
Her solo in “Celestial Wisdom on Earth“ was inspired by the events she experienced in her personal life during the creation of the show. Modern dance allowed her to process and express her emotions in a new way. The resulting performance fit with the choreography that Ott Thompson and members of the company had already crafted.
Sarah Henderson, a newer member of the Collective, enjoys the creative process of putting together a brand new show. “We start with an idea and each of the dancers contributes,” Henderson said. “Catey pieces together our ideas so as you move through week by week, it grows from nothing into something big.”
Working with the Catey Ott Dance Collective is one of the many jobs that Ott balances in Milwaukee. She also teaches classes at the local DanceWorks studio. This studio is where she met many of the dancers in her company, including Roskopf and Henderson.
“We don’t hold auditions,” Ott Thompson said. “Most of the dancers come to me or I will keep seeing them in performances and realize that I’m still watching the same person time after time.”
The modern dance community in Milwaukee is small but growing.