Cat Manturuk is a veteran of the JCE Jazz Dance Project who has appeared in performances throughout most of the Project’s history. She is the founder and artistic director of the dance company DANCE CAT-ALYST, a choreographer, dancer, and a teacher.
She talked with us about her life as a jazz dance choreographer and teacher and shares some insights about the jazz dance scene of her native Detroit.
What do you think separates jazz dance from other dance genres? What drew you to it?
Jazz dance separates itself primarily from other dance genres in the idea that it embraces many styles, unlike the others. Jazz dance originates from social dances of African Americans who connected it to jazz music. Just as jazz musicians would have moments to improvise so did dancers in syncopated movements and isolations. Jazz dance keeps evolving over the decades. From the early jazz era in the 1920s-40s to the 1950s when Hollywood choreographers worked with jazz dance that embraced a more balletic approach. A jazz dancer would maintain ballet skills and also incorporate tap dance skills for musical theatre and Broadway. For example many pioneers of jazz dance show how they embraced multiple styles. Katherine Dunham developed the Dunham technique, which fused Afro-Caribbean styles and used polyrhythms with the torso’s ability to isolate and undulate; Bob Fosse created “Fosse style” with turned in lines and jazz hands; and Matt Mattox made jazz technique based on his ballet training.
What brought me to jazz dance was my parents playing a “Hooked on Swing” record in my living room when I was seven years old. Next I knew my mom was signing me up for my first jazz dance class on my eighth birthday, and I haven’t left it since. On the drive home that first day I told my mom, “I want to be a dance teacher when I grow up.”
What sort of dance styles do you teach? Do you have a style you enjoy teaching more than others?
I can teach ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop and modern. I like to teach my style of movement called ModHopJazz. It is a fusion of Modern, Hip-hop and Jazz dance with a strong ballet base. I enjoy teaching all of them equally and putting them together.
What is your favorite aspect of choreographing dance?
My favorite aspect of choreographing the dance is the challenge within it, the process. Picking a concept or musical choice and then bringing it to light through talented hard-working dancers who embrace the joy of movement.
Similarly, what is your favorite aspect of performing as a dancer?
As a performer I love sharing with the audience my joy for dance!
Have you always had an interest in choreography, or were your dance aspirations primarily about being a performer when you were starting out? Also, what made you interested in becoming a choreographer?
I always had an interest in choreography but never actually knew it. I just did it. Originally, I mostly focused on performing. However, as a child I would choreograph for talent shows in elementary school, back up dancers for rappers in middle school, and helping a neighbor with routines for an exercise teacher exam. My childhood friends and cousins remind me today that I was always making dances, I just never thought anything of it. It wasn’t until Western Michigan University choreography classes that I started to realize more that I could do this and it was something I wanted to do. WMU has amazing professors that not only encouraged me but gave me the history of dance and performance in great works of Donald McKayle, Lar Lubovitch, and Billy Siegenfeld to name a few. This made me start to dream of it even more! I would spend hours in the dance and music library immersed in books for all styles of dance.
Are there styles of dance that you enjoy choreographing more than you enjoy performing, or vice versa?
I like choreographing and dancing to my style of ModHopJazz. It is what feels good on my body both to choreograph and to perform!
Do you enjoy performing in your own pieces, or would you rather just choreograph your dances?
I do love performing in my own pieces. The times I sit out of my dances I always later wish I put myself in it. I want to dance while I still can! Also I love sharing the stage with my wonderful dancers. They are amazing! However, when my schedule is tight I realize the importance of pulling myself out and being respectful to my body when needed!
You’re a native of Detroit, and your company DANCE CAT-ALYST has performed several times in the Detroit Dance City Festival. Have you seen any changes or growth in the jazz dance scene or the dance scene in general in Detroit over the past several years?
Dance Cat-alyst has performed at Detroit Dance City Festival for five years and the festival has grown upward of 10,000 in audience thanks to Artistic Director, Joori Jung. The Festival annually hosts a Friday Funk Night, Choreographers Showcase, and Summerstage Series. The festival mission is to educate audiences about the impact of dance, provide opportunities for artists to share their work, and create an artistic network between Michigan, the United States and the world! The festival embraces all styles of dance especially seen at Friday Funk Night. However I do feel that the choreographers showcase has more contemporary dance than jazz. Dance Cat-alyst is one of the few companies that brings jazz dance to the Choreographers Showcase at Detroit Dance City Festival and teaches it during the master class workshops.
Is the jazz dance scene in Detroit different from the one in New York City? If so, how?
Detroit actually has many similarities to New York City and also some differences. Just as New York City lost its many dance ballrooms for jazz like The Savoy Ballroom and The Palladium, so did Detroit. The city had an era of big ballroom dance halls like The Grande Ballroom, and The Vanity Ballroom to name a couple. My grandfather used to play piano for the Walter Schuster Orchestra at the Grande Ballroom and he would say “the floors were so sprung it felt like you were floating when you danced.”
Today New York City has a concert dance format thanks to Marian Hyun and Merete Muenter for opening this venue. The JCE Jazz Dance Project by the Jazz Choreography Enterprises provides performance of original jazz choreography and educational programs. I am not aware of a jazz dance concert in Detroit. However Denise Caston has been doing a fabulous job for 11 years with the Motor City Tap Dance Festival.
You’re a veteran of the Jazz Project. What makes you keep coming back, and what do you enjoy most about the JCE performances?
I have been coming to JCE Jazz Dance Project for 11 years now. I love the energy that the founders Marian Hyun and Merete Muenter bring to the Project. They embrace many aspects of jazz dance and because of that I feel as though I have a home to choreograph and perform. The performances always have a diverse program and that’s why I keep coming back!
Cat Manturuk is the founder and artistic director of DANCE CAT-ALYST, a soul-driven contemporary dance company. A native of Detroit, MI, she holds a BFA in Dance and BS in Exercise Science from Western Michigan University. After graduating, Cat was a scholarship student at Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Center in Chicago, later moving to LA, where she performed with LA Modern and Ballet Company, Blue13 Dance, Regina Klenjosky Dance Company, and Collage Dance Theatre. Upon her arrival in New York, she joined Dance 2XS and became rehearsal director to Decadancetheatre. Her music video credits lie with BET and MTVIndia, and she has been featured in Dance Spirit, Shape, and Elle magazine.
DANCE CAT-ALYST outreach programs and performances: Nanjing, China; the NY Jazz Choreography Project; Battery Downtown Dance Festival; Brooklyn Dance Festival; Detroit Dance City Festival; Wellspring Cori Terry & Dancers; NYC’S Chelsea Piers Sports Center and Sky Rink; and Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival. Cat is a recipient of the ACDF Excellence in Performance and Choreography Award, a Harkness Scholarship, a National Dance Association Outstanding Scholarship, and Presidential Award. Her choreography has been noted as “creating heat…” by the LA Times and teaching role as “crisply alive…” by the NY Times.