Grace & Grit: A Dance Compilation by Georgia Finnegan

Sally Rousse, co-founder of James Sewell Ballet, 1993, from Grace & Grit. Photo by Erik Saulitis

Among the short biographies in an encyclopedia compiled by Georgia Finnegan, Grace & Grit: A History of Ballet in Minnesota (Afton Press, 2024), is the story of Margret Dietz (1913–1972), a German- born expressionist dancer, choreographer, and teacher who “continued to dance to keep her spirit lifted as the dark shadows of Hitler’s control deepened.”

She and 12 other anti- Nazi dancers were required to entertain officers at the Russian front. Dietz was the only one to return alive. Eventually she immigrated to the U.S.

In 1966, the University of Minnesota offered Dietz an associate professor position. In the early 1970s, the College of Saint Benedict in St. Joseph invited her to be the master teacher and choreographer for their summer workshops.

In a convocation talk at the school in March 1971, Dietz said: “Experience or no experience, every one of you has a relationship to dance, because you breathe. And breath is movement, and movement is nothing less than expression of life … Your movements are produced by the same miraculous instrument the dancer uses: the human body.”

 

The story of Dietz is found in the “Encore” chapter at the end of Finnegan’s book, about the historical movers and shakers of dance who moved ballet beyond the barre to contemporary ballet and modern dance.