Annelise Mertz Wins State’s Highest Arts Award

Annelise Mertz, Professor Emerita of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, has received the 2004 Missouri Arts Award, the state’s highest honor in the arts for her contributions to arts education.

Annelise Mertz

Annelise was born in Berlin, studied with Laban and Wigman, danced with the Kurt Jooss Dance Theatre, the company of the Berlin State Opera, and the Municipal Operas of Darmstadt and Dusseldorf. She came to USA in 1955, taught briefly at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and joined the faculty at Washington University in 1957.

We met her early on in her Washington U. tenure, as she brought us to the campus there in March 1957 for the production of Bewtiched (Nikolais/Partch). Over the years, she continued to present many of the companies from the Nikolais tradition and bring many of us to the campus as guest artists and faculty members.

From our point of view this recognition is not only deserved but overdue. She knows good dance when she sees it, and she is indefatigable in her efforts to bring the best of contemporary art to St. Louis. We admire her vision, her constant energy, her sense of fun, and her integrity.

Gruss Gott, Annelise! Perhaps only Annelise will appreciate this personal greeting from me.

— Ruth E. Grauert  

The following is Annelise’s acceptance speech upon receiving her award:

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honor for me to recieve this award today, and my gratitude goes to the Missouri Arts Council and everyone who was involved with the selection of candidates.

Since I am only allowed to speak for three minutes, I cannot elaborate on a subject in which I am deeply interested and involved: it is movement and dance education for girls and boys in our public and private schools. There are only a few schools that have a good program, and it is usually offered for girls only. Most schools offer nothing at all. I agree with Dr. Lisa Eck when she calls for “a re-evaluation of the meaning of movment in our schools and communities.” This is exactly what I was trying to accomplish with my book The Body Can Speak. It seeks to eliminate from the reader’s mind many misconceptions, especially about dance, and offers a better understanding of movement as our first language.

My suggestion is that, in an introductory movement class, whether at the elemetary or high school level, the emphasis should be, first of all, on creative movement education, which is vital to human development because we are working consciously with our own body as an instrument of expression.

Such an education should be part of the regular curriculum and not offered just as a recreational after-school activity, or be eliminated from the schedule altogether.

Margaret H’Doubler, a former biology professor who started the first dance program in the U.S. in 1926, and one of eighteen contributors to The Body Can Speak, stated:

“If every child in every school, from his entrance until his graduation from high school or college, were given the opportunity to experience dance as a creative art, and if his dancing kept pace with his developing physical, mental, and spritual needs, the enrichment of his adult life might reach beyond any results we can now comtemplate. It is only in art that all the aspects of man’s complex nature are unitied in expression.”

For a review of Annelise’s book, see The Body Can Speak.

See news article from Washington University’s Record: Mertz Wins State’s Highest Arts Award