Sarah Haykel has been a professional dance instructor since 2003 and a teaching artist at Young Audiences of Western New York for more than four years. She specializes in salsa dancing and Latin music and dance, focusing not only on timing, technique, rhythm, footwork, and styling, but on the historical and cultural aspects of Latin music and dance. This past April, she participated in the Young Audiences Teaching Artist Institute in NYC, where I had the opportunity to interview Sarah. The Institute took place during the YA 60th Anniversary National Conference on April 24-27th and it brought professional development training to more than 50 teaching artists from around the YA network, including 15-20 from the New York State area.
Young Audiences Arts for Learning would like to thank the New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA) for their generous support that allowed many of our teaching artists in New York City, Rochester and Buffalo to participate in the Young Audiences Teaching Artist Institute.
Young Audiences: When did you realize you had a passion for Dance?
Sarah Haykel: I started dancing when I was in high school and I was going through a transformational time in my life and free style dancing was like an awakening. In college, I quickly learned how to dance everything from hip-hop to break dancing. And I picked it up so naturally that I began creating my own Improv moves. When I was in my early twenties, I learned how to Salsa dance. I started emulating a friend of mine who was a social dancer. We both liked each others styles, so we decided to teach a Ladies Styling class together just a few months after I started to learn salsa dancing. As a free stylist, I would just bust a move and I started doing this in Salsa.
YA: Why do you focus on teaching youth dance programs?
Sarah: Shortly after I started teaching Salsa, I began working with young people. And since I had gone through a tough time in my youth, I am drawn to kids who are at risk because I can relate to them and support them through my programs. I started working with an arts program in the Bay Area that helped homeless and underprivileged kids. From there, I went on to teach an adult dance program in Hawaii. For a while my teaching focused on projects with adults, but it just sprung forward when I moved back to Buffalo a few years later and I had the opportunity to work with Young Audiences of Western New York (YAWNY). They gave me a new start and allowed me to work with many kids across all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, making a real impact through dance, movement, mindfulness and meditation. This is something I love to do and YAWNY gives me the perfect platform to do this!
Sarah teaching a dance residency.
YA: How do you integrate your dance programs into your student’s core classes?
Sarah: My classes focus on the cultural and historical aspects of the dance forms that relate to my student’s classes. Students are fascinated with how Latin dance comes from many different cultures and how these cultures fuse together to create different styles of music and movement. Also, many of the technical aspects of partner dancing help a student’s personal development and their classroom skills: the counts of the music being on time, and understanding the rhythm, and using your memory to remember the dance steps.
YA: Does wellness play a part in your dance programs?
Sarah: As a professional certified life coach, I am so passionate about supporting kids so they can fully express and share their unique gifts with the world in a way that empowers, motivates, and inspires themselves and others. Part of it is the physical dance and the other part is the life coaching, mindfulness and meditation. We start the class by setting intentions and discussing gratitude – what we feel most thankful for at that very moment. And then we practice conscious breathing and movement exercises.
YA: Could you tell me about a rewarding moment working with your kids?
Sarah: Last year, I was working with a group of girls at the Riverside high school who were amazing and we had a great connection. At our final showcase last year, the Riverside students, which consisted of one Puerto Rican American student and several Congolese refugees, without much prompting, "circled up", as I call it, and started to go through our closing routine by themselves. It was so sweet to watch this and see the impact that working with them over several months had accomplished.
YA: Would you like to add anything else?
Sarah: I just want to give so much thanks to Young Audiences of Western New York and New York State Council for the Arts for being a source that allows artists to have a much greater impact in our communities. YAWNY is very nurturing and they are always contacting me with new opportunities. It feels incredible to be acknowledged and validated, it is so EASY to be ME with Young Audiences and for that I am so grateful.
Hear thoughts from Sarah about her experiences with Young Audiences: