UMass Amherst: Department of Music and Dance: Dance Alumni
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Dance Alumni

We are always so excited to hear what our alums are up to since they've graduated from UMass! Please keep in touch with us and let us know how you are.

To read about all the exciting happenings of the Fall 2009 semester, see the Dance Giving Opportunities page.

We've set up the UMass Dance Alumni Network to help keep graduates up to date on happenings here at UMass as well as audition and alumni concert notices around the country. If you're not already receiving these emails and would like to, just drop a line to Peggy Schwartz or Eric Roth (email sender) and we'll put you on the list!

After graduating Cum Laude with a BFA in 2000, Amber Crooker moved to NYC to train with Alvin Ailey in their Summer Intensive program, where she developed a passion for Horton and Dunham Technique and found her mentor, Joan Peters.

In the fall of 2000, she successfully auditioned for the Alvin Ailey Certificate Program, training countless hours a week with both Ailey I and II companies.  She joined the Ailey Multicultural School Performances program and worked with the fabulous Steven Contraras, Abdur-Rahim Jackson, Gwynenn-Taylor Jones, Earl Mosley, and Matthew Rushing.

In 2003, after an ACL injury, she became the Artistic Director for the NYC Elite Gymnastics and Dance school, privately trained

many pre-professional dancers, and started a preschool program that echoed throughout the city. She held sold out summer intensive camps, trained the schools' elite gymnasts in classical ballet, Horton and jazz, and entered pieces that were recognized in the Tribeca Film Festival as well as many other benefits and fundraisers throughout the city.

In 2004, Amber moved to Portland Maine and taught private and semi-private Horton, Ballet, and Dunham instruction for the top Maine dance centers and conservatory dance schools. She held a 3 month intensive for The Turning Pointe Dance Center, Maine's most elite and nationally ranked senior competition team, in Biddeford.
She became the Assistant Artistic Director of Stardancers, Inc, Maine's finest conservatory academy where she re-created and directed the petite, junior and senior level programs, as well as Owner and Artistic Director of Northeast Dance Method, a modern-based dance company with two performance groups out of South Paris and Portland.

Currently, Amber is living in Burlington, MA where she is focusing on a family.  She is an Executive Assistant in Concord, MA and plans on getting back into the dance world in a few years.

Gretel Schatz BFA'96 has been Director of the Northfield Mount Hermon Dance Program since 1997. In her time at NMH, a high school boarding school, she has choreographed too many dances to count in styles ranging from polka to pointe, with a clear affinity for modern dance, improvisation and comedy. Working with an international population of teenagers and getting them to dance with conviction and connect their story to their dancing, she has taught alongside UMass dance grads Laurel Kleinschmidt Raffetto '97 and Amanda Chapin '05.
Gretel and her husband Steve have 3 kids, Hugh, Sylvia and Pearl, who spend more time in costume and in character than not, and have taught her how to combine Jedi Knight and Ninja dancing with beautiful princess swirly twirlies, as well as multiple new ways of falling to the floor and recovering.


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Layard Thompson BFA'00 won a Bessie, the dance world's version of the Oscar. In acknowledgement of the body of work that he did in New York City, the inscription on the Bessie reads, "For igniting new possibilities of physical existence and personal expression, in performances that manifested singularities on stages, sidewalks, and beyond with the Pixie Harlots and solo performances inspired by Deborah Hay."

This is an extraordinary achievement for such a young artist who can now number himself among world-renown dance artists and Bessie winners Trisha Brown, Mark Morris, Meredith Monk, Bill T. Jones, Doug Elkins and Doug Varone.

Thompson's creativity has taken him to many venues. In 2008, for example, he appeared on the Whitney Live Series at The Whitney Museum of American Art and at the Joyce Soho. Of his performance at the Joyce of Hay's work, The Runner, adapted by Thompson and renamed The Warrior, The New York Times said, "Dolled up like an urban fairy in barely there running shorts, red and black tulle, sparkles and one set of false eyelashes, Mr. Thompson fired a blank pistol to announce his presence, then preceded to run (and much more) with scissors, noodling his lithe, lyrical body through the off-kilter hops and lunges that Ms. Hay delights in. Inscrutable gestures and made-up words were offset by Mr. Thompson's fierce concentration, suggesting a compelling inner logic. His babble was nonsense: his art is anything but."

In December '08 his Cup...puC......K......Ohhhh, Beauty, full, vessel: a soul-o dance, premiered at Dance Theater Workshop in NYC. Other projects include: collectively hosting and producing the album artwork photo and music video shoot for band Shiny Toy Guns, signed with Universal, and publishing an article in Fake Magazine, part of London's Frieze Art Fair.

A more recent performance by Layard, entitled Verb-alll ... la la la ... trasshhhh, at the Movement Research Fall Festival at Danspace Project in NYC received a glowing review written by Roslyn Sulcas in the December 8, 2009 issue of the New York Times.

Thompson lives mainly in Tennessee on 360 acres of land, working on commissions and living out his dream of building a rural workshop and studio for his art with a community of artists interested in creating green and sustainable homes. He says that he misses New York City, where he still has an apartment.

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Karyn Norton Edison BA'79 in Dance, is celebrating 30 years of directing the Dancing Arts Center (a day school and afterschool for 4-12 grades and a student performing troupe in Holliston, MA).  She is a 15-year committee member of the Children's Dance Festival and a founding member of the Massachusetts Dance Festival (www.massdancefestival.org), which presented its inaugural concerts on Nov. 6 & 7, 2009 at the Boston University Dance Theatre.

Her students perform with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Orlando Ballet and Pittsburgh Ballet Theater; others are studying at the UMass Amherst Dance Department, Columbia/Alvin Ailey and American Academy of Dramatic Arts. 

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Dance Department