VoyageOhio Interview director Sarah Hixon
July 14, 2022 by Jessica Ramirez
Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Hixon.
Sarah, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I discovered dance as a child and began training at the age of 6 in my hometown of Pasadena, CA. I passionately pursued dance throughout my youth, studying concert dance forms like ballet and modern and performing many times every year. Even as a young dancer, I grew very interested in choreography—the art of creating dances. I dabbled in it, choreographing dance pieces for friends’ talent shows or assisting my instructors in re-setting dances they had taught me to new students. I went on to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance from George Mason University. I was honored to receive the Faculty Award for Excellence in Choreography. I went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Dance with an emphasis on choreography at The Ohio State University. I began my professional company, Hixon Dance, shortly after graduating. I choreograph and direct for the company, as well as handle most of the administrative duties. The company has performed all over central Ohio and beyond, and has been a mainstay of the independent dance community in Columbus for 15 years. We became an official nonprofit in 2016. In 2017 we began offering movement classes for the community. This program is important because it provides a space for students of all ages and backgrounds to learn about dance, explore their own creativity, and collaborate together in a safe place. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to help dancers of all ages learn to love movement and to continue to make great works of dance for the stage!
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Pursuing any performing art comes with many challenges. I have had to overcome physical injury, emotional abuse, and a lot of rejection during my career. There is a considerable amount of judgment about the body in traditional training—body size, shape, etc. which can be very difficult to live with. It is hard to not internalize a lot of these things as a person. Most young people studying dance will, unfortunately, experience some kind of traumatic event. However, I refuse to be defined by one narrow idea of “success” in the performing arts. I have had many great opportunities to teach, choreograph, and collaborate with some amazing artists and I strive to break cycles of disrespect. Now that I primarily focus on the administrative side of my organization, it comes with new challenges. There is always a full plate of tasks, from grant writing and budgeting to helping students and their parents find the best class fit for them. We opened our own studio space last year so that has kept me extra busy! There are always struggles as a nonprofit organization, but we are having a real impact on our community and that makes it all worthwhile.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
Hixon Dance is known for making rich collaborative dance works for the stage. We regularly collaborate with other artists—especially musicians—and experts in other fields to inspire, create, and produce new work. The company consistently presents impactful and finely crafted works that are accessible to audiences with a strong commitment to a multidisciplinary creative process. I like to make work that has a lot of ways “in” for an audience—dances that people can emotionally relate to and understand. Choreographing is a daring and vulnerable act. To create dance is to expose your genuine self, ideas, and emotions to others. For me, it is also a way of thinking about the world and about the people in it. I make dances to deeply explore experiences, philosophies, stories, personas, or phenomena. Choreographing is my activism. Choreographing strengthens my understanding, increases my capacity for empathy, and profoundly connects me to other people. For me, a successful dance is one that is carefully crafted, thoughtful, and genuine. While my own creative process continually undergoes change, the goal for my work remains the same: to bring to life an individual perspective on the world, no matter how dark or humorous, painful or euphoric. There is a great deal of trauma in most dance education programs, and I find that to be extremely detrimental. I wanted to create a movement education program where students would find a truly safe environment to explore dance and their own movement ideas. Our educational program values inclusive community building, real body positivity and developing healthy techniques, and instilling a growth mindset in our students. We love making a safe space for dancers who don’t “fit in” with typical dance studios. The experiences are richer, more meaningful, and very gratifying.
The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you and any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
The pandemic has been one of the greatest challenges our organization has ever faced. To create dance, you need dancers together in the same space for a long time. Our stage productions take a minimum of 6 months to produce, and it is often closer to 8 or 10 months of regular rehearsal. During the 2020-21 season, we held company classes and rehearsals almost entirely over Zoom with dancers using their kitchens or living rooms or whatever space they had available to them. It was extremely challenging and did not provide the same level of connection that we are used to, but it was good to have something creative to focus our attention and energy on. When the weather was ok, we did have some outdoor classes and rehearsals, just so we could be together in the same place and move together. That was huge. We created 7 original dance works for the camera, and short films that featured each company member and then the entire company. It was actually great to delve into a different medium and focus on making work that was intended to be seen on film. It allowed us to incorporate different outdoor settings or specific sites which added new context to the work. We also held classes for students online during that year over Zoom as well. We had about 30 intrepid students from ages 3 to 80 who took a class with us all year. There were a lot of cameos from pets, siblings, or family members! While it was challenging to provide movement education in this way, it was wonderful to provide a time and space for kids and adults to focus on themselves, movement ideas, and self-expression. It provided some connection for them, and for us. Kids got to still talk to their friends and see each other dance over Zoom. It was really wonderful to know we were helping in this small way.
Photos by Stephanie Matthews and Ken Falk