Following an incredible nine-year career of dynamic dance performance and expressive movement with Smuin Ballet, Susan Roemer will step away from performing and focus on her growing career as a costume designer.
With her keen artistry and tremendous skill as a dancer, she’s performed many key roles in Smuin productions over the years, and is a favorite of audiences and critics alike. “There’s an almost defiant star quality in everything she dances,” said Allan Ulrich of the San Francisco Chronicle. “You can’t take your eyes off her.”
Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Roemer danced with Milwaukee Ballet II, Ballet Quad Cities, Augusta Ballet, and Northern Plains Ballet before moving to California to join Smuin Ballet in 2007. With Smuin Ballet, she has performed and originated roles in many works by renowned choreographers including Michael Smuin, Ma Cong, Jiří Kylián, Trey McIntyre, Val Caniparoli, Adam Hougland, and Helen Pickett.
Roemer remembers her start in ballet at the age of 4 after watching her older sister’s ballet class: “She didn’t enjoy it as much as I did as I sat in the window watching her!” She recalls recitals performed in her basement for family members in front of a glittery snowflake backdrop. “My mom left it up for years,” Roemer said. “I had graduated from high school before she took it down.”
Beginning a career in classical ballet, Roemer searched for a company she could call her “artistic home.” Even after dancing professionally for five years, Roemer notes, “I still felt like I was starting out… growing and learning. When I joined Smuin, I was a confident dancer, but through this community I’ve become so much more.”
Artistic Director Celia Fushille commented, “Susan arrived as a young woman, anxious to further explore her dancing, and leaves as a mature artist. Her deep and thoughtful approach to her dancing has resulted in performances of the highest caliber.”
Fushille stepped into the role of director the same year Roemer joined the Company. Roemer credits Fushille with influencing her personal and artistic growth: “Celia saw something in me, when I joined the company as a young dancer. From day one, I feel like she trusted me to take chances, to make mistakes, and supported me along the way. She recognizes that I’m not the same dancer I was when I joined the company, and she embraces who I am today. ”
Roemer is grateful to Amy Seiwert, Smuin Ballet’s Choreographer-in-Residence, for her first major opportunity with the Company. Cast in a solo for a new Seiwert work Objects of Curiosity (2007), Roemer notes a transition in her dance career: “I think the Company saw me differently after performing in that contemporary work.”
In the Spotlight at Smuin
Looking back over nearly a decade of performances with Smuin Ballet, Roemer identified several formative roles central to her artistic development. In 2009, Roemer performed the lead role in Michael Smuin’s St. Louis Woman: A Blues Ballet. “Even after Michael passed away [in 2007], the ballet was still fresh and full of depth,” she commented. “I could pick up on Michael’s emphasis and nuances from dancers who had performed the role before. It was a really special piece to me—sort of a coming-of-age work, as I was coming into my own as a featured dancer with the company. The more mature character was something I could easily tap into.”
Roemer laughs thinking about her many years performing the Smuin classic “Santa Baby” in The Christmas Ballet. “I love dancing ‘Santa Baby.’ The audience loves it. They love it before you even step onstage. Year after year, that role is such a huge part of Smuin’s history, and I’m proud to say that I’ve contributed.”
Roemer recalled Adam Hougland’s Cold Virtues (2012) as one of her favorite featured roles to perform with Smuin. “[Cold Virtues] is such a beautiful, driving, intense piece. I really connected to the contemporary and theatrical quality of the piece. My technical ability as a dancer and my personal evolution paralleled in that role—dancing in that piece represented who I was at that moment.”
A Unique Career Ahead
Following the conclusion of Smuin Ballet’s 2015/2016 season, Roemer plans to pursue her business in costume design full time. “My time with Smuin has been so rich with experiences and people, and I’m so grateful. All of my skills and experiences are converging in my next career phase.”
Roemer tells the story of her first sewing experience: “In 2011, I bought a used sewing machine online. I brought it home, stared at it, and told myself, ‘Well, I’m gonna have to learn how to use it sometime.’” She taught herself using online tutorials, and began creating leotards for herself and others.
Roemer delivered her first costume commission in 2012 for Smuin Ballet’s Choreography Showcase, calling it “eye-opening.” “I wasn’t sold on the business idea. When I originally bought the sewing machine, I thought it would be just another hobby. But this one really stuck.”
While recovering from an injury three years ago, Roemer found time to focus on her designs and explore the possibilities of a career in costume design. Her business, S-Curve Apparel & Design, supplies costumes and dancewear to ballet companies and professional dancers, as well as athletic apparel to everyone.
Roemer credits the S-Curve name to several sources. “In design sketching, the s-curve is the shape of the two-dimensional figure. S-curve is also a mathematical equation,” she noted, “so there’s a precision to the work that I do and the movement the dancers perform.” She jokes, “An s-curve is also a common shape on a racetrack. My father was a racecar driver.”
Roemer’s career in dance performance gives her a unique perspective on costume design. “I know what it feels like to be in the garments, and what it means to be wearing a costume in general. As a dancer, you are your own instrument. While I would love for my designs to be fashionable, aesthetically pleasing, and complement the choreography, they never to take away from the dancers’ artistry.”
Roemer hopes to continue S-Curve’s costume and athleticwear design for dancers and the larger community in the future. “I love being able to continue working in the same arts community that I’ve developed over nine years in San Francisco,” she commented. “Everyone has movement in life, and I’d like to support that through my designs.”
Roemer notes that her love for design follows from her love of movement. “In costume design, I feel like I’ve found a way to express my love for movement through the clothes I make, and through the people that wear them. The dancers bring my designs to life. There’s something unique that an artist can bring to a garment, and that is a constant source of refreshed creativity.”
Looking Back and Moving Forward
Does Smuin look much different now from when Roemer joined nearly a decade ago? “People always say to me: ‘This is the best the company has ever looked.’ The Company’s changed around me; I’ve changed,” she commented. “I’m just so grateful I was given the opportunity to grow, to evolve, to take risks, to fail—and be supported in that process.”
Roemer looks forward to her future after Smuin and the possibilities of S-Curve. “I never saw myself staying for nine years, but now I can’t imagine growing this way anywhere else. I felt like I found my home with Smuin Ballet,” she said. “Almost a decade is a lot of time to look back on and think, ‘Well, when did I make that change? How did I grow into that person?’ That’s what I’m most proud of: dancing with Smuin Ballet has made me a more generous person.”
Smuin Ballet is grateful to Susan Roemer for her incredible dedication, hard work, and dynamic performances that have become an integral piece of the Company’s reputation and legacy. “It has been a joy to work with Susan and see her blossom over these past nine years,” Fushille said. “Her commanding presence will certainly be missed on the Smuin stage!”