Written by Barbara Sueko McGuire
Photos by Kelly Mustapha
Not everyone is lucky enough to find their life’s passion at age four, but for Sarah Rodenhouse, dance has always been a way for her to use her body to express emotions she’s unable to find words for. She’s trained in just about every style, from ballet and jazz to contemporary and tap, and has taken classes around the world, from Bangkok and Florence to Cape Town and Bali. These are just the first few lines of her impressive dance resume.
“I genuinely think I have a hard time functioning unless both my body and mind are being physically and creatively stimulated, and I haven’t found anything else that does that for me in the way dance has,” she explained.
We were able to still Sarah momentarily, and sat down with her to talk about movement, what it’s like being the co-director of the dance company MashUp, and how she keeps artistically stimulated and fulfilled.
When did you first know you wanted to be a dancer?
I can’t really pin-point an exact moment when I knew I wanted to be a dancer, but a few Christmases ago my borderline hoarder mother gave me a framed self portrait that I drew when I was in third grade. At the bottom of the picture it says “My Future,” and I had to fill in what I wanted to be.
“When I am grown up, I am going to be a professional dancer. I would like to be this because I like to dance, and I get a lot of exercise, and it’s fun.” As simple as it sounds, it still holds true today.
What inspired you to create MashUp, the dance company you started with your friend Victoria Brown in 2010?
I think part of the reason I started MashUp with Victoria is because I was young and naive, but the other major part is because I felt like the industry and the auditions I was going to were not fulfilling the type of dance I really wanted to be doing.
In the beginning, MashUp was an outlet for Victoria and I to do what we really love and on our terms. But then I think we started to realize that there were just so many great dancers in LA that were craving this kind of outlet as well, and that we did have something special. The process of starting up the company and becoming a non-profit was stressful (still is sometimes) and really trial by fire, but also fun. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we went for it and have somehow made it this far.
I have had to wear every different hat you could possibly imagine, probably hats you didn’t even know existed. I’ve been everything including dancer, choreographer, director, grant writer, marketing manager, event planner, graphic designer, bookkeeper, costume washer, props handler—I could go on for days. No job has ever been too small. I’ve just done whatever I needed to do to keep the company running, and I have to say it has been an incredible learning experience that I wouldn’t ever change. I always thought that being in the dance industry meant being just a dancer, but there really is so much more and I’m so happy to have learned and acquired so many new skills through this process.
Tell me a little bit more about MashUp—what are you guys all about?
MashUp is an all female non-profit contemporary dance company based in LA. We try to bring the art of dance to life through artistically innovative works and a unique movement vocabulary. MashUp aims to engage diverse communities in the invaluable experience of dance through performances, after school programming, and participation with the Los Angeles dance community.
We hope to share the gift of dance and use it to empower young minds and bodies with a special importance placed on motivating young girls and women to be strong, confident, and articulate females. Our movement quality is based on a strong technical or ballet foundation with elements of jazz, modern, and hip hop infused to create an athletic and interesting aesthetic.
As a company, we have performed in eight cities around the U.S. and Canada, and have self-produced a total of five evening-length shows. MashUp usually performs at different venues, theaters and events around Los Angeles, but will soon be able to hold small performances in our new space in the “Frogtown” area of LA. We have also partnered with both LA’s Best and The Girl Scouts to provide after school classes and workshops.
You’re in the process of launching your own dance class for non-dancers. What inspired that and what is the class like?
THIS CLASS! I am so stoked about Moved LA. As much as I have loved working with professional dancers for over a decade, I also have some pretty amazing non-dancer friends that I always wished I could work with. They are creative, fun, and fearless. This is really what inspired me to start Moved LA. I can understand and totally dig their creative work, and I wanted to do the same for them with dance. I wanted to show my friends and others like them why I’m so passionate about movement and why it is so therapeutic for me.
Unlike other dance classes where you have to learn and regurgitate choreography, Moved LA uses exercises and imagery to help everyone come up with their own unique way of moving in order to genuinely express themselves. It may sound a little scary, but once you get going and just let the music and movement take over, it’s so much fun and so rewarding in lots of different ways. I’m hoping to do some private parties with groups of friends or team building with some smaller businesses until we launch a big class open to the public later this summer/fall.
What do you think makes dancing such an incredible form of creative expression?
For me, it’s literally that unspoken thing. As humans we all have a connection to our body. It’s the thing that gets us up and down and from Point A to Point B. Everything we do revolves around using our bodies in some way. So it makes sense that it is an innate form of expression. When certain emotions come up, we usually feel them in our bodies first before we express them in words. I can tell you what a song sounds like, but if I show you with my body it makes a bigger impact.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a dancer and how did you overcome that?
In dance, there are lots of outside obstacles. You are constantly being judged on a daily basis and the competition is pretty intense. But I’d have to say that the biggest challenge has been standing in my own way, and this is a challenge that I think I am still overcoming. As I get older I’ve realized that just because I don’t have certain jobs listed on my resume doesn’t mean I’m not a good dancer and it doesn’t mean I haven’t learned a lot over the past 11 years that I’ve been pursuing this.
One thing I’m proud of is that I’ve really stayed true to myself through the process and have surrounded myself with really good people who support me no matter what my dance career looks like. I’m finally becoming more comfortable with who I am as a dancer and a choreographer, and have grown to like the quirks that used to make me feel like I wasn’t a good dancer.
What’s coming up next?
I’m so excited for the rest of this season as we talk about female exploration and the gender equality movement. We’ve asked our dancers and some of the most influential women in our industry to delve into this topic so we can create what I think will be our most important work to date. MashUp has actually launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project so that we can more fully develop the conversation.
We want to analyze the complexity of a woman’s role in modern society and use our space and dancers to their fullest potential to present a thought-provoking performance, which we’re calling “Intrinsic Motivation.” It’s going to be a reflection of our research on the topic and the dialogue that we’re creating in our community, and will be our first performance in our new space. I just cannot wait to share what we’ve been working on! The sky is the limit with this show as our dancers express a woman’s versatility including grace, strength, and emotional connection, and as we have free reign over our space to really make the vision come to life.
Besides dancing, what are some of your other interests?
Anything visually stimulating interests me. Aside from looking at art, I’ve always had a thing for finding fun vintage clothing and decorating. I not so secretly kind of want to be a party/event planner. I love getting crafty by creating a magical ambiance in a space. I’m kind of a DIY gal at heart, and even got to showcase my mad skills earlier this year at a friends wedding in Brooklyn. I planned, created, and decorated the entire reception space, even created all of the bouquets, boutonnieres and decor for the church (with help from some awesome bridesmaids!). Oh, and I also love beer.
A few weeks ago a group of women met in a secluded home nestled in the hills of Silverlake, CA to drink, dine, and learn a bit about their inner astrology. The patio overlooked a picturesque view of the Hollywood sign and the glowing sunset above while the dining room displayed a long table inviting guests to nestle close to each other for an evening of food and conversation. The gathering was the outcome of a creative brainstorming session held between Popover and Creative Collective LA. I was introduced to Creative Collective’s vibrant owner, Mara Mehdy, through mutual friends and from that initial meeting we both knew a collaboration had to happen. Both companies have a distinct style so this event was sure to be a memorable mix of approachable entertaining and insightful personal discovery. Like all good gatherings, the guests became the focus and the table that evening did not disappoint. Artists, photographers, publicists, florists, and other equally creative backgrounds and mindsets filled the seats to kick off an evening rooted in what the stars would hold for 2016.
One of the most amazing parts of co-hosting a gathering is watching both contributor’s visions come together in those last moments when the scene is being set. Rustic blue dyed fabrics from Warp and Weft Dye Co. lined the table, while wildflower blooms from Lark Farnum Floral Design curled and stretched upwards out of vintage vases. Each plate displayed a hand painted menu from Kitty Moss sealed in it’s own constellation envelope. Ana DiGiallonardo from Salome was there early to capture every moment, from the thoughtful placecard arranging to the passing of food between conversations. Like a true family meal, bowls of roasted tomatoes and Mediterranean faro salad were shared alongside platters of flatbreads. A champagne cocktail concocted by the evening’s discussion leader kicked off the meal and from that moment on there wasn’t a quiet moment until the last guest left.
It was fitting that a discussion about horoscopes happened perched in a bird’s nest of a home under the stars of a clear night. Not to mention, the year is just kicking off and fresh starts are still on everyone’s mind. Cara George, co-owner of Mojave Rising led one of the best discussions on how each sign defines a person. We’re not talking pop horoscopes either found hiding in your spam e-mail folders, she dove into a root of each star sign from the energetic rise of Aries all the way down to Pisces’ mystical calm. Smiles, laughs, and moments of personal discovery flickered from guest to guest as each sign was introduced. Common bonds were quickly formed as people found their astrological partner across the table. The discussion rolled into where we see those horoscope traits leading us for the year, what attributes can we steal from another sign, and how to find that magical connection with someone when you are creating collaboratively. With Cara’s guidance each guest’s most personal traits were essentially exposed to those around them and when there may only be a few familiar faces in the crowd that vulnerability can be overwhelming. But, as the discussion built and layered upon additional comments and questions everyone reached the same conclusion that in what can be considered a fast-paced and competitive city, everyone is just looking to share something creatively with someone else. That evening, there weren’t any walls to break, there wasn’t any competition, just everyone’s innermost traits on the table.
Gathering by Popover and Creative Collective LA
Photos by Ana DiGiallonardo of Salome
Flowers by Lark Farnum Floral Design
Table fabric by Warp and Weft Dye Co.
Menus by Kitty Moss
Horoscope cards and discussion by Cara George Mojave Rising
There’s something about the way Toni Walker tells a story that immediately draws you in. From the cadence of her voice to her impeccable red lipstick to the way her elegant hands wrap around a cup of coffee—without even asking for it she charms your undivided attention. Perhaps it’s also her thoughtful approach to the world, which is unique in today’s everything-at-a-your-fingertips-in-a-hot-second reality. And as art tends to imitate life, so it goes for Toni, who’s very nature is an apt reflection of her craft and heart’s passion, vintage.
I first met Toni at a weekly breakfast pow wow I have with a few friends that we’ve dubbed Coffee Talk Thursday, and was thrilled when she became a regular member. We don’t usually talk shop, instead focusing on life’s other adventures, so it was great to sit down with her and learn the backstory to her incredible vintage shop Fair Season.
When did you first get interested in vintage and why? Tell me about the birth of Fair Season.
I’ve been collecting vintage since high school. I just wanted to look different and I figured out that thrifting was the way to do it! It’s been a passion and addiction ever since. I started Fair Season after I got laid off from a retail job in New York. It was the kick in the pants that I needed to push me into doing my own thing. I had lunch with a friend and she asked me the obvious, and really hard question, “What do you really want to do?” and I told her I wanted to travel around the country collecting vintage and selling my finds. I was crazy enough to do it. I took time off to go out to the Midwest and started building my inventory out there. That’s how it all started.
What do you think is your best vintage find to date? Have you ever had a piece you just couldn’t part with?
I have a closet full of things I couldn’t part with, it’s a hazard of the job I think. One of my favorites so far is my Key overalls. Keys are hard to find, and mine are the perfect fit and perfect wash. I wear them a lot and they’re always cute.
How were you able to grow your business to where it is today?
It took a lot of time and effort, and I’m definitely not done yet! Doing a lot of markets when I first moved to LA was great. Meeting customers face to face is so important. I think I started my little following that way. My goal has always been to make my online presence strong, and I did that by looking at analytics and seeing what my customers wanted to buy. I focused on denim and there has been a great response.
What support did you have or do you wish you had at the beginning?
I do pretty much everything on my own, so I dream about having some helping hands all the time. Most importantly, I would love to have a ‘back of the house’ person. I know Excel and I’m good at it, but bookkeeping isn’t the first thing that I want to do everyday if you know what I mean. My spreadsheets need a major update.
Any advice for others looking to take a creative leap?
Make a plan and go for it! Your path will always change once you get rolling, but there’s nothing better than working for yourself in pursuit of your own dreams.
What drew you to Coffee Talk Thursday (CTT)? How important is it for you to have a time and a place where you can chat with other creatives?
CTT is a group of creative people talking about whatever’s going on at the moment, over coffee or tea. We bounce around LA—and beyond—to coffee shops and breakfast spots, so we get to try new places and explore new neighborhoods while we talk about whatever’s on our minds. We all need an outlet where we can bounce ideas off of an objective group, and I find that CTT is a really good place for that.
Written by Barbara Sueko McGuire
Photographed by Carlos Quinteros Jr.
Growing up as a child in Jakarta, Indonesia, I was always charmed by plants. My fascination with their lives, how they grow, how they interact with animals and the magical colors they produce led me to dream of a career that would surround me with nature’s beauty every day.
Pursuing my BFA in Graphic Design, brought me to California, where the local plants captivated my heart, mind and imagination. I liken California native plants to the classic image of a California surfer dude—they love where they live, they have a casual, easygoing attitude, and it doesn’t take very much to make them happy.
My desire to bring nature home led me to study native horticulture through the Theodore Payne Foundation, a non-profit nursery that is dedicated to a preservation of California Native plants. Now, I use my own Culver City front and backyard as both an educational piece and my source of joyful inspiration, turning it into a sustainable, lively eco-system for bees, butterflies, bids, and other wildlife. I am proud that my garden has become part of Theodore Payne Annual Garden Tour, and my neighbors see it as an oasis in the urban environment. It was even featured on 89.3 KPCC for its Environment & Science story on Drought: Taking Out Your Lawn? How to Choose What to do Next.
As people came to visit the garden and began to inquire about California Native gardening, I realized how underrated and misunderstood California Native plants are. While I am not a landscape designer (maybe some day), I am inspired to integrate my passion and artistic vision to create an awareness around California Native plants. From there, a variety of projects and collaborations began to take root, and Poppy & Finch grew organically as a business.
From leading creative native plant workshops for educational groups and private parties to creating products and floral designs for special events of all kinds, I want my company to be as freeform and varied as the Southern California landscape. In the Poppy & Finch studio, colorful vintage coffee cans, condiment containers and other repurposed collectibles are used for arrangements of California flora, which will transform them into unique, one-of-a-kind centerpieces for an upcoming wedding or staging, to name a few. T-shirts, tote bags, and cushions sporting the colorful Poppy&Finch logo are ready to be shipped to customers. Plans for collaborations with local artists, on products such as soaps, candles and essential oils, are blooming and growing. And inspired new native plant project ideas pop up in my sketchbooks daily.
We think of the earth as this enduring thing that nurtures us and will outlive us, but the truth is, it’s very fragile. What we do for it while we’re here really does matter. I love being able to use my design skills to help people understand that, and help them experience the beauty of giving the earth what it needs. I really believe we have to think globally and plant locally. The plants we put in our gardens will feed the birds and butterflies and all the other wildlife around us. Ninety percent of local leaf-eating insects, including caterpillars that turn into butterflies, only can eat California Native plants. Most of plants around us might be drought-tolerant but they are from Africa, New Zealand, Australia, etc. California Native plants is the base food web for the cycle of life. Gardening with California Native is such a rewarding experience, I really feel connected to nature. I want to help people here in Southern California surround themselves with the real, authentic beauty of this place,
To learn more about Weina, California native plants, and her company Poppy + Finch, visit her website.
Copy writer: Julie Curtis
Photography: Anne Cynn and Heather Winters