Sarah Daley (South Elgin, IL) began her training at the Faubourg School of Ballet in Illinois under the direction of Watmora Casey and Tatyana Mazur. She is a 2009 graduate of the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program in Dance. Ms. Daley has trained at institutions such as the Kirov Academy, National Ballet School of Canada, The San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, and intensives at Ballet Camp Illinois and Ballet Adriatico in Italy. She is a recipient of a Youth America Grand Prix Award and an ARTS Foundation Award. She was a member of Ailey II and joined the Company in 2011.
NDIGO recently sat down and asked Sarah Daley a few questions:
What made you know you wanted to be a dancer?
I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t dancing. As a child, I had a lot of energy that needed some direction, so my parents put me in all sorts of dance and movement classes. I became passionate about dance, and once I realized I was pretty good at it, I wanted to see how far I could go.
What has the experience been like working with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater?
Working in the Ailey Company has taught me a lot about myself, building relationships, and the privilege as an artist to educate, entertain, and learn from a community. The work is difficult but gratifying. Traveling the world has expanded my mind, as has working with artists who are not only incredible dancers, but also really interesting and driven people.
Who are three dancers that influenced you significantly and why?
The first person to influence me significantly was Watmora Casey, my dance teacher growing up in Illinois. The studio he owns, and that I trained at in Hanover Park, has always been another home to me. The people there are like family. Casey gave us tough love and turned me into someone who not only wanted to have fun with dance, but also enjoyed the work and growth involved in becoming a technical, versatile and thoughtful dancer. He also piqued my interest in modern dance. As a studio we would organize trips to the Auditorium Theater in downtown Chicago to see companies like The Joffrey, Boris Eifman Ballet, The Bolshoi, and many others. After we saw Ailey there for the first time, it became an annual trip not to be missed.
Sylvia Waters (Ailey II Artistic Director Emerita) is another teacher and director that I have learned a lot from. During my two years in Ailey II, she continuously gave me opportunities to challenge myself and pushed me to find more depth in my dancing. She would always talk to the dancers about the performances, have conversations with us in rehearsal, not just about the steps but about what they meant and why we were doing them. Through her I developed a deeper respect for and understanding of Mr. Ailey and his works.
Once upon a time I wanted to be a prima ballerina and ABT was one of my dream companies. My love for modern dance led me in a different direction, but growing up, I idolized Julie Kent. To me she exemplified grace and power onstage. I thought she was really elegant and a little mysterious. When I saw her dance, she always brought the audience in somehow. We were literally leaning forward in our seats to be more fully immersed in the story she was telling.
What profession might you have tried if dance hadn’t captivated you?
I’ve always loved to write, and I considered becoming a journalist. I also have a love for history and travel that I probably would have turned into a career in anthropology.
Tell us about the first “big-time” gig that gave you butterflies?
My very first performance with Ailey II was at an outdoor festival in Bryant Park, and I remember being sort of delirious with terror and excitement. We were performing lots of different excerpts, and I danced “House of the Rising Sun” from Ailey’s Blues Suite, which is still one of my favorites, and which I’ll perform at the Auditorium Theater in March. And although my hands were shaking as we began, I was elated by the end.
What has it meant to you to be a part of the legendary Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater?
To be a part of Ailey is to be a part of something bigger than yourself, and I’ve really cherished that opportunity. The company has a rich history and has been home to many legendary artists in the dance world. Being considered worthy of a place in an institution that means so much to people all over the world has been humbling.
Any advice for young dancers with dreams of dancing for a living?
My advice to young dancers is to not give any fuel to the fires of insecurity and self-doubt. We seem to invite or conjure doubting voices in order to criticize and judge ourselves. It took me a while to understand how to stop being so harshly and destructively critical of myself and my dancing, and to allow room for actual progress.
Do you have a favorite dance based movie and/or documentary?
What do you listen to (if anything) before a performance to get you hyped/motivated?
The music I listen to before a performance changes from day to day, depending on what I have to do onstage. On days when I really need to concentrate, music is more distracting than helpful, so I don’t listen to anything. Other days, I need to be more hype or embody a certain character, and my music helps me do that. I’ll choose from playlists of artists like Erykah Badu, Edith Piaf, Kendrick Lamar, Snarky Puppy, the Beatles, or whatever helps me get in the right state of mind.
What is the funniest or most awkward moment on stage that you can remember?
Concert dance is live theater, so funny things happen onstage from time to time. I’ve been in a few situations where props are nowhere to be found or seem to take on a life of their own and elude dancer control. Brains can go momentarily blank, muscle memory brings to mind the wrong piece, and on very rare occasions there are collisions onstage. The only thing to do is shake it off, keep going, and laugh about it later!