Meet YMA’s Dance Director

Sara Martins is our brand new dance teacher this summer! We are so excited to have her with us and we hope you are too. If you’re interested in our dance program and want to learn more about Sara, here is a Q&A with her!

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What kind of dance styles will you be teaching at YMA?

Sara Martins: I will be focusing on a combined modern-jazz style; some modern techniques and some jazz techniques. I would say that when I teach a contemporary or modern or jazz class, it’s pretty fusion-style. I incorporate a lot of different techniques and world dance styles, just because I’ve studied a lot of different things, so I tend to pull from all these experiences and my own education and background. I just love to incorporate different styles; I think it keeps things really fresh and interesting. I will be teaching a strong basis in technique. I hopefully will also be teaching some tap! I teach tap nearly full time in Portland and it’s something that’s really special and important to me and I want to continue to educate dancers in that art form! It’s not super common but it’s such a different style of dance and it’s so fun!

How did you get involved with YMA this year?

S: I’ve known Julana Torrez, who was the dance instructor last year, forever. Her mother was one of my teachers, so I’ve known Julana since she was a little girl and our paths have crossed a lot over the course of our lives and in recent years. When she was unable to teach this year, she reached out to me. Then Sekou, who is the African dance teacher, reached out to me and also recommended me. He and I know each other from the dance community and Portland public schools and I have worked with his wife a bunch! They both contacted me independently of each other. Apparently, two other colleagues of mine from da Vinci Middle School also recommended me without me knowing, so there were all these converging forces! I guess it’s meant to be!

How long have you been teaching dance?

S: Oh gosh! 20 plus years at least!

Who do you teach?

S: I teach at da Vinci Arts Middle School as my day job. I have also taught high school kids, I’ve taught college, I’ve taught adults, but typically middle school and up. I haven’t spent a lot of time teaching to younger kids.

How would you describe your teaching style?

S: There’s this educational term called warm demander and I think that describes me pretty well. I feel like I’m very supportive and friendly- I use a lot of humor- but I also have high expectations and I’m going to hold you to them in class. I don’t want to see kids slack off. I was trained in a way that was super high-standard with dance class etiquette, and I think that’s important to pass on. When my students go off to other classes, I want them to know how to step into a room and present themselves. There’s a magic balance for me. I want my students to know I love them but also that I have high expectations for them.

How have you seen dance affect kids that you’ve taught?

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S: I’ve seen a huge effect, especially at the middle school level. I see dance having huge impacts because it’s very empowering. That sense of being able to express yourself and of creating self-discipline and strengthening your body is really empowering and it’s something that takes so much work to get good at. When somebody accomplishes a sense of mastery in something, there’s nothing like it. I’ve seen kids become more confident, more expressive, more comfortable in their own skin, and more inspired to continue with dance or other art forms because of their experience in dance.

Do you have a mantra or a main piece of advice that you commonly tell your students?

S: For me, it’s that with hard work, you can do anything. There’s also one word I don’t allow my students to see in class, and it’s can’t. If I’m asking you to do something, it’s physically possible and I know you can, you just have to keep trying. It might challenging or you might not be good at it yet, but you can do it.

When did you start dancing?

S: I started when I was little. I started taking ballet when I was three and I always jokingly call it the gateway. It was the thing that got me hooked and it led me to discover so many other dance styles. It’s a different for everyone; I know many people who didn’t start dancing until later in their lives, but for me, it was really early and I never wanted to do anything else.

Why is dance so special to you?

S: Dance, for me, is this beautiful combination of art and athleticism. It’s using your body for expression. I love the athleticism but I also love the artistry of it. It’s something that, because it’s visual and uses music usually, is the full meal deal experience. Whereas other things might only engage one sense, dance is all-encompassing in a way that feels really fulfilling and constantly challenging.

What is your favorite dance style?

S: I love them all! People ask me what my favorite dance style is and it’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. I can’t do that! I also have background in musical theatre, so I’ve done and loved just about everything. It’s all means of expression. I can’t define one dance style as my favorite because I really do value them all.

What are you looking forward to for this summer with YMA?

S: I’m looking forward to getting to know students. I’m looking forward to the immersion environment that YMA is known for. Everyone, from my students and former students to colleagues and friends of mine, who has been apart of YMA has glowing compliments about their experience at YMA. I’m really looking forward to it!

Some quotes have been edited for clarity.