National organization selects New Trier’s Katie Kritek as Midwest dance teacher of the year
There are many steps in dance, depending on genre, music, style, location and more.
One of the most important steps, according to New Trier dance instructor Katie Kritek, is the one outside of your comfort zone.
“For students to just come in to take dance at New Trier, even dancing is a risk,” she said. “ … Moving your body in a new way is a risk. Even if you trained for many many years, stepping out of your comfort zone in terms of what type of movement you do. When creating choreography, trying new things that might not always work out. It’s OK. It will lead to something else.”
But Kritek doesn’t just tell her students to take risks. She enables them to, according to New Trier junior Lauren Van Neck.
“Immediately, she was such a warm person,” said Van Neck, who was a student of Kriteck her freshman year. “She makes it easy to talk to her and talk to her about any issues — dance or just life. In terms of dance, she just makes you feel so comfortable to be yourself and make mistakes.”
Kritek’s teaching philosophy recently won the appeal of outsiders, as well, as she was one of 22 teachers nationwide to be designated a District Teacher of the Year by SHAPE America, which stands for Society of Health and Physical Educators.
Kritek was named the Midwest recipient in the Dance Education category and moved on to the national competition.
“I’m very humbled by it,” she said. “It’s really quite an honor. I work with some people who have gotten the same honor and to be put there with them is really nice.”
Kritek, a product of nearby Wheeling, has been a dance instructor at New Trier High School for 17 years.
After graduating from Wheeling High School, she studied dance and dance education at New York University. She then became a professional danced, spending a lot of her performance career in Chicago.
Her teaching career began at McDonald Dance Academy in Arlington Heights, where she has spent 21 years honing her craft.
“I believe in teaching fully, for the whole child,” Kritek said. “I think building individual relationships with students allows them to get to know me and me to get to know them, and allows them to take risks when they dance and be more comfortable in the dance studio.”
“Fostering relationships and positivity is something I strive for.”
Van Neck has seen that firsthand.
“She’s a very kind person and so she never makes comments or corrections in a way that makes me feel degraded or bad about myself,” Van Neck said. “She always presented it in a way that helps you get better.”
New Trier has a robust dance curriculum that offers classes available to all grade levels, as well as skill levels. A college-grade course is also available, as is men’s dance and more.
Kritek spends plenty of time in her advisory role as well. Every New Trier student is assigned an advisor, and the ones assigned to Kritek are in good shape, Van Neck said.
“Everyone I talked to about her absolutely adores her,” she said. “All the girls in her advisory love her.”
For the next round, Kritek will submit to SHAPE America a recording of one of her classes and interview with the organization.
Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319