On the dance circuit

When she was a kid, Annie (Christianson) Deutz tried all sorts of activities, from figure skating to soccer and swimming to gymnastics.

But she returned to something she first tried when she was 3 years old – dance – and has made a career out of it.

Deutz, a Marshall High School graduate and a former student of the Southwest School of Dance, has spent the last three years with Thodos Dance Chicago, a critically acclaimed dance company that performs on the national and international dance circuits.

She graduated from the University of Arizona in 2009 and moved to Chicago to pursue her dance career. After a season with another company, Deutz started auditioning. She tried out for Thodos in 2010.

“There were close to 100 dancers that came to the audition, and six hours later, I was one of the last few standing,” she said. “The audition process included learning and performing two ballet combinations, three to four short contemporary/modern dance combinations from the company’s current repertoire and a solo that I prepared prior to the audition.”

The director, Melissa Thodos, offered Deutz an intern position for the 2010-2011 season, and she was promoted to dance apprentice the following season. In the fall of 2012, Deutz became a full company member.

She is currently a teacher, choreographer and performer with Thodos. Deutz said that TDC’s mission is “inspiring expression through dance education, dance creation and dance performance.” The company tours and performs throughout Chicago and around the United States and internationally. The contracted season usually runs from late August until April or May.

TDC also has a youth dance program that Deutz teaches, offering a variety of dance classes ages 3 to adult.

Deutz said the dancers at Thodos are working on a show called “New Dances,” and this year will be the 13th year it has been produced. The project is unique because each dance piece in the show is choreographed by a Thodos company member.

“We get to choose our dancers through an audition process, pick our own music and costumes and what kind of lighting we want,” Deutz said. “It is a wonderful opportunity that Melissa gives us, and it is nice to be able to have a chance to showcase our own choreography.” The show will be July 19-21.

Every show that TDC prepares and performs is a collaboration of six to eight dance pieces from its repertoire, including an intermission.

“There are many shows when some of us are dancing in every piece in the show,” Deutz said. “It can be tough, but it is what we train for.”

Another show TDC has been performing the last couple of years is a story ballet called “The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893,” choreographed by Melissa Thodos in collaboration with Broadway legend Ann Reinking. It was named “the year’s best dance” by the Chicago Sun Times in 2011, Deutz said. For this season, the two created another story ballet that was inspired by the story of Helen Keller and her teacher Ann Sullivan. Deutz played the role of Sullivan.

Touring with the company is definitely one of the highlights of dancing and performing with Thodos, Deutz said. She has toured with the company throughout Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Indiana and Missouri. Last spring, Deutz also had the privilege of joining Melissa Thodos and the company on a three-and-a-half week tour throughout Alaska, going to nine cities.

“We traveled by train, bus, car, airplane, ferry, you name it,” Deutz said. “In each city we performed a full-length show and also visited some of the local schools to deliver an interactive assembly program that educates students about the styles of dance and the concepts and tools employed in creating dance.”

Deutz has been dancing since she was 3 years old. She started taking dance lessons in third grade at Ann’s School of Dance in Marshall. After trying out several other activities like gymnastics, figure skating, soccer and basketball, she decided to give dance another try. When she was in the sixth grade, she started dancing at SWSD. She attended a six-week summer dance intensive at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pa. after her junior year in high school, and that is where she decided she wanted to go to college for dance. Deutz knew she wanted to make dance her career once she graduated college, and she said she was thoroughly prepared for the professional dance world.

“I knew what to expect, the good and the bad,” she said. “Choosing as a career is definitely not easy for anyone. It takes a lot of determination, patience and discipline.” Most dancers have other jobs, like teaching dance, Pilates or a personal trainer, she said. Deutz is a certified personal trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and also works as a personal trainer at the Lincoln Park Athletic Club in Chicago.

Deutz credits SWSD director Charlotte Wendel and Desiree (Olafson) Herold as her mentors in dance.

“She (Wendel) taught me more than just dance,” Deutz said. “She taught me life lessons and common sense. She always wants the best for her students and expects hard work and dedication.”

As for Herold, Deutz said that “she took me under her wing and over the years taught me so much and encouraged me to further my dance training.” Herold also danced professionally in Chicago, Deutz said.

Deutz said she would not be where she is today without the support of her teachers, friends family and husband.

“No matter where life takes me, dance will be a part of my life in one way or another, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Deutz said.