Sarah Crowell was my first dance teacher. I met her when I was 6 years old at Destiny Arts Center in Oakland, California, and trained with her until I was 18 years old.
As a teenager, I worked with her as a member of the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company—a program equipped with hip hop, modern, martial arts, singing and vertical dancing. Sarah brought me up there and gave me my foundation in dance. She watched me grow from a shy kid trying to hide behind other people to a student who would get into arguments about being in front.
Sarah’s got a brilliant smile that makes you want to be close to her. She is captivating and charismatic. I think it’s that warmth that makes students behave well in her class. She rarely gets angry, but you really didn’t want to be the person who made her mad—the one who took her light and inspiration away. I wanted her to be proud of me.
She has an amazing ability to really see all of her students as individuals, and make them feel heard. I remember I once got in an argument with another student over how the lights should be set for an upcoming show. I went to Sarah, angry, to tell her about the problem. She paused what we were doing for tech and had everyone involved in the show sit in a restorative justice circle to talk through the issue. She said we needed to process this together, and work through our anger as a group to get back to the show. It was a twist on the “show must go on” mentality. To her, the show needed to go on, but it couldn’t go on if we ignored the conflict. It taught me so much about working with others.
The beginning and end of Sarah’s class was always set in a circle. To start, she would guide us through mindfulness exercises, as well as short breathing meditations. To end, she would encourage us to give props to our fellow dancers for the work they had done that day. We would raise our hands and share the positive things we recognized, then give snaps. It’s a really powerful tool that I’ve applied to my own teaching practice to help students share love.
Destiny has a collaboration with BANDALOOP [a professional company that dances vertically off cliffs, buildings and other structures], which allowed me to dip my toes into the world of vertical dancing from a young age. Years after graduating from the school, after college and a professional modern dance career in the Bay Area, I got an email from BANDALOOP. They were looking to work with Destiny alumni for a performance and asked if I was interested. From there, I started doing administrative work and eventually became their education coordinator. In that capacity, I have been able to work with Sarah as a colleague.
As an adult, my relationship with Sarah has truly been forged. When I was her student, I put her on a pedestal, but as a teacher myself, I’ve needed to turn our relationship into one in which we can disagree, and work as peers. I am able to be my fullest self with her, and we now have a collaborative relationship that benefits both of us. She has taught hundreds of students in her lifetime, and watched many of them make this same transition. She is gracious and holds reverence for us that makes progress possible.
In 2020 I became a BANDALOOP dancer, and Sarah left Destiny after 30 years with the organization. Most recently we have had the opportunity to perform alongside each other. It was the final piece of our creative relationship that we had yet to broach.
I want to thank Sarah for being my lifelong teacher. I’m grateful she has allowed our relationship to grow and change as it needs to.