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Suzanne Ostersmith makes a difference with dance

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 27, 2021

Forget the myriad mother-in-law jokes when it comes to Suzanne Ostersmith and Christi Smith. They are a walking mutual admiration society. The latter nominated the former for Women of the Year and wasn’t taken aback when Ostersmith was selected.

“I wasn’t surprised at all that she’s one of the Women of the Year,” Smith said while calling from her South Hill home. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Suzanne was named Woman of the Year. She’s a marvelous person, who is amazingly talented.

“She shares that talent and empowers people. She has had such an amazing impact on our family and the community.”

Ostersmith is an associate professor of theatre and dance, and a dance director at Gonzaga University. The Stanford alum founded the academic dance programs at Gonzaga and Whitworth in 2000 and directed and choreographed shows simultaneously for a decade.

The San Francisco native, who established the dance major, minor and interdisciplinary arts minor at Gonzaga and was granted tenure as a professor in the spring of 2021, is understandably proud of all that she has accomplished after moving to the Inland Northwest in 1998.

“It blows my brain out on a regular basis,” Ostersmith said from the Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center, where she is director.

When Ostersmith left her post at the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle in 1998 to build her family home in Chattaroy, the intention was to focus on family, including her husband Mark, and her two sons, Niklas and Daniel.

“My husband, Mark, grew up in Spokane and I wanted to be closer to my in-laws, who are the most wonderful people,” Ostersmith said. “We built a home and I didn’t think I would be getting back to work any time soon.”

However, the energetic, eclectic artist founded the Old Orchard Theatre on Green Bluff months after relocating, and it was run under Ostersmith’s direction for 13 years, raising $70,000 in scholarships, which were given to Green Bluff students. The musicals featured community company members ranging from ages 8 to 80.

Smith’s husband, Gil Smith, starred in many of the plays.

“It was fun, homegrown theater that was run so well since Suzanne was on top of everything,” Smith said.

Ostersmith laughed when reminiscing.

“I had a wonderful time with a wonderful cast,” Ostersmith said. “It was a great experience. I was compelled to do it and don’t regret a minute of it.”

In 2010, Ostersmith decided to focus on her work at Gonzaga.

“It’s fertile ground here,” Ostersmith said. “I wanted to make an impact at Gonzaga, and I decided to put all of my eggs into the Gonzaga basket and it’s worked out well. I’ve been moving through the ranks.

“It’s been so serendipitous. I love working with college students. I can’t imagine being happier.”

The unrelenting dynamo features professional dance in Spokane courtesy of “The Suzanne Ostersmith Dance Endowment.”

“No one else is presenting dance here on a regular basis so I bring in professional dance companies,” Ostersmith said. “My students need to see professional dancers and by producing shows they learn from it. There’s a real love of dance here.

“We’re bringing in the Spectrum Dance Theater from Seattle Nov. 20 at the Myrtle Woldson theater. It’s wonderful since people can experience what they do here so they don’t have to drive over the mountains to get to Seattle to witness their artistry.”

Prior to that show, Ostersmith will choreograph “Orpheus and Eurydice,” which is slated for Friday and Sunday at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.

“I’m very excited about this show,” Ostersmith said. “The whole region is excited to see opera again after a long hiatus. To do live opera is so exciting. The director (Dan Wallace Miller) has a great contemporary take on this ancient story.

“I’m impressed the way the Northwest Opera is handling this with COVID. I’m so pleased with my dancers. I have four from Gonzaga: Ryan Hayes, Brooke Geffrey-Bowler, Alaina Margo and Maria Scott. They’re all dance majors, who are spectacular. It’s wonderful for them to have this professional experience.”

Ostersmith can’t help but look ahead to next year.

“In February, we have a week of celebrating our bodies and dance,” Ostersmith said. “It’s about taking care of ourselves through dance. The program is called ‘Cura Personalis,’ Latin for caring for the whole person.

“It’s a big thing for our campus that we would like to share with our community so they can learn how to take care of their bodies through dance.”

Ostersmith, who moved to Browne’s Addition in 2014, takes care of her body by hitting local trails.

“I love to bike around the area,” Ostersmith said. “I even bike to school. I also love to ski.”

She balances physical activities with creatives ones.

“I’m a visual artist, who loves to paint,” she said.

And Ostersmith has no greater fans than her in-laws.

“We’re so proud of her,” Smith said. “Suzanne is not just incredibly talented. She can’t say no and she’s always helping students and the community. If only there were more people like her.”

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