When meeting with acclaimed Smuin dancer, Erin Yarbrough, it’s easy to forget that you’re conducting an interview. Even after a long day of dancing, there’s an undeniable sense of ease about her. What many don’t know is that following her long rehearsal days, she often speeds off to another studio, this time, to teach.
Erin, or “Miss Erin” to her students, has taught at Alameda’s Dance Arts Project since 2003, (yours truly was one of her first students). She will also be the first to tell you that she didn’t necessarily include professional dance or teaching, for that matter, in her career goals. Decidedly candid, she quips “I didn’t plan on including professional dancing into my professional dancing career.”
Some might assume that teaching ballet technique might pale next to performing some 60+ shows a year with a reputable company, but Yarbrough admits otherwise. “There is quite a bit to it. I know a lot about ballet, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to the teaching world.” In this respect, she credits the director of her school, Michaela Lynch, for instilling in her much of what she knows about teaching.
“Sometimes, I’m really tired, and that is the biggest challenge.
“I dance because it’s my parole option.” A student once jokingly deadpanned.
Another responded with: “I like that you can have a really ugly face, but still be a beautiful dancer,” Erin grins whole-heartedly while retelling the story, “This from this angelic-looking little creature; I laughed so hard at that!”
In this respect, she maintains that teaching has only furthered her success as a professional dancer, “I understand things in a different way when I have to teach them to someone else. You never know something as well as when you teach it.” Dance Arts Project is a very cooperative place. With different levels of dancers in their upper division and an average of 25 students per class, oftentimes the most advanced dancers will take it upon themselves to coach the younger ones. It’s this pay-it-forward mentality that Erin encourages.
“I try to take the things that are most important to me as a dancer and instill them in my students.” It’s impossible not to pick up on the compassion she extends to the many teenagers in her classes. “I want to encourage them to be healthy, physically, but also their little psyches. It’s important to me that they’re healthy kids.” She is genuinely very protective of them at times and recalls all too well just how difficult those teenage years can be. “I have a real tenderness for how hard it is to be that age.” As a teacher, she says that you need to “honor your role as a mentor, and as someone who potentially has a lot of influence over them. There’s a lot of responsibility you have when dealing with kids, of any age.”
Seeing her students succeed and grow into their own brings her particular joy. Seeing them leave the studio feeling a bit better is uplifting to her, as is creating new works for their annual shows.
“I feel so much of what we do is more about life, the big picture, than just dancing- the piqués and the tendus. If it were just about that, I wouldn’t do it.”
When I asked her what she would do if she had to pick something else to teach, perhaps in another life, she sees herself as a potential vintner. But, at the end of the day, it’s definitive: “I think this is what I was supposed to do.”
I’ll be the first to agree.
** Written by Eva Faizi (Smuin Ballet’s Patron Services Manager)
Catch Erin Yarbrough on stage May 8 – June 6 in our Unlaced Dance Series!