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.