The most natural thing

Sarah Ebert has danced her whole life. Now she's trying to figure out why.

Ebert says she likes dancers who look like "real people."

By Zena Chew

Sarah Catherine Ebert made her dancing debut at the age of 4 in Kankakee, Ill. In a short ballet, perhaps inspired by the Midwestern weather, she was an ice skater, wearing a little skirt and a matching fur muff and hat. According to her parents, she was the one who always knew what she was doing and made it her job to direct the entire group. "There's always one kid that's like, 'No, do this,' and that was totally me," Ebert says. Now in her second year at the University of Oregon, Ebert gets to boss around whole classrooms full of dancers.

Ebert hadn't planned on going back to school for a master's degree, but when her fiancé got a job as a musical accompanist in the U of O dance department, she followed him here. In Eugene, school seemed like the best way to keep dancing. With a full schedule of academic work, taking classes and teaching classes, Ebert says, school often makes her tired, but it has also given her time to examine why she chose to devote her life to dancing. "It's just always seemed like the most natural thing," Ebert says. "It's just always been a part of my life. So, for the first time I've had to answer that question."

Ebert wears a pair of floppy red knit slippers to walk between dance classes. Before class, she sits in front of the mirror and pulls her curly dark hair back into a little ponytail. She wears two pairs of pants (baggy black cotton over black spandex) and three shirts (a fleece pullover, a maroon long sleeved T-shirt and a black tank top). A few layers are tossed aside as she gets warmed up.

Ebert is slight, but she looks taller on the dance floor. When her teacher, Sherri Barr, is demonstrating warm-up exercises, other people mimic Barr's movements, but Ebert stands still, watching and memorizing the steps. When it's the class' turn, Ebert executes the footwork in perfect time with the music. Her leg lifts look balanced and effortless. She is graceful, yet every movement is precise and deliberate. A simple turn of the hand is granted as much importance as a jump or a roll.

Ebert says a lot of younger dancers make an artificial distinction between technique class, where they practice and get better, and rehearsal, where it's time to dance and be an artist, but she consciously approaches both the same way. There are layers to the creative process, Ebert says. There are the mechanics of the movement, like the proper way to brush your toe across the floor and lift off again, or control the minute turns of your hip joint, but creative exploration is equally important, because art requires more than technical perfection.

next page