In Studio G at Gibney Dance, Tinashe’s “Flame” pulses through the speakers. Sarah Eika Burke sings along, swirling her hands in her hair and stretching her arms into the choreography she just taught her students. They follow, learning Sarah’s moves as she says them aloud. Hands and arms twist upward in a motion Sarah calls “Britney!” Hands flick out sideways as if getting rid of excess moisture: “Water!" Hands swish through hair with attitude: “Dry shampoo!” Many of the students have taken her class before and are used to her sassy yet lighthearted teaching style--they understand what “Dry Shampoo!” means, while it makes me chuckle with delight.
Sarah is a full-time artist, teaching five hip-hop classes a week all over New York in addition to being a dancer, choreographer, movement director, and voice-over actor (“Why does it just have to be one thing?” she says later). She originally moved to New York to be a modern dancer, but as she started taking more and more hip-hop classes, opportunities to work in that genre grew so she stuck with it. Sarah still performs modern occasionally, but she has also since appeared in music videos for artists like Kings of Leon and Devvon Terrell, been featured in PeopleStyle, performed on Good Morning America, and more. She will also be choreographing the Brooklyn Nets pre-game show at Barclays Center in March. If that weren’t enough, you may have also heard her voice on Spotify Premium Ads and iHeart Radio. Always working, she already has gigs lined up through this coming September.
Sarah commands attention when she teaches, not in a militaristic way, but in a magnetic way: she’s charismatic and brimming with positive energy. She makes everyone feel welcome (even me, standing at the front of class with a camera), joking around to make students comfortable while still teaching a full class. If someone needs a step repeated, she stops immediately to help them and will always answer questions. I have memories of my own dance class days, feeling timid and nervous about needing a choreography reminder, but if my teachers were like Sarah it would have been a lot easier to speak up.
One of the things Sarah says she loves most, I’ll learn later, is storytelling. Sitting at a table having drinks after class, her friends hang on her every word. But this storytelling translates into her movement, too, where she is as fearless and colorful with her choreography as she is with her anecdotes. No matter how many times she and the class repeat the Tinashe combination that night, her story, her movement, is just as vibrant as the last time, if not more. She’s not afraid to get close to herself in the mirror, to roll around on the floor and throw her hair back into fabulous disarray, all the while encouraging others to do the same. So she’s not just telling a story, she’s teaching her language, too.
Become a fan of Sarah on Facebook. Check out Sarah’s choreography on YouTube. Take Sarah’s classes: Mondays 7-8:30 pm @ PMT Dance Studio Tuesdays 8-9:30 pm @ Gibney Dance 280; 2:30-4 pm@ Steps On Broadway Thursdays 7:30-9 pm @ Peridance Capezio Center Fridays 6:15-7:45 pm @ Steps On Broadway