Manitou Messenger: When did you start your career in dancing? What led you to dancing, and jazz dancing in particular?
Professor Karla Grotting: My mother was a dance teacher, and she had her studio in the basement. She said I could dance with every class . . . so I just danced every day; I grew up feeling that dance was a part of my life. Eventually, as I got older, I danced more seriously and realized I could make a career of it – and I’m still doing that.
MM: Could you tell me about your experience with jazz music?
KG: I grew up in the age of television variety shows like the Carol Burnett Show, or Jackie Gleason. These TV shows had featured dancers who would perform routines, and they were really appealing to me. I thought that was what I wanted to do: I want to dance with these people. As I grew up and studied theater – and studied dance more seriously – I fell in love with jazz music, and specifically with its rich history which tells the complicated story of race in America. I became interested in music, and the social history behind it.
MM: What are some challenges of being a dance artist? What is the hardest part in your dancing and teaching career?
KG: Part of the challenge is that I’m simultaneously teaching, choreographing, doing art administration and performing, so it feels like I have four really big jobs. I love all of them, but I also need to do all of them to make ends meet, so part of it is the support for the art and is not as strong as it could be.
The other thing is that being in my 50’s I really have to take care of my body. I have to pay attention to it so I don’t get stiff, sore or injured. I feel like I’m endlessly warming up, exercising, preparing for class or cooling down, and it takes a lot of time and energy.
MM: What is the most interesting experience that you have had in your career?
KG: We have been traveling to a lot of places like Paris, Japan, Wales, England and all over the United States. I really enjoyed touring, but I think the most exciting thing for me has been starting to create my own dance works and creating my own choreography. It is exciting, and sometimes scary, to try to figure out how much I’ve absorbed from my teachers, and finding my own authentic voice as a choreographer in that work.
MM: What are you looking forward to in the future?
KG: I really am passionate about teaching, so I really hope to continue to teach. I love teaching in a college setting. I teach at the University of Minnesota, and for this year, at St. Olaf. I would love to do more international teaching, so I can work with students from other countries and travel while I’m teaching.
MM: Do you have any comments that you would like to add?
KG: I would like to encourage students who don’t think of themselves as dancers to come try dance class. It can be challenging to learn something new as an adult, but it can also be very satisfying. It can keep your mind and body active, open and responsive.