We are proud to spotlight Inclusive Theatre Companies choreographer Sandra Roachford!
Sandra is a choreographer and dance and movement instructor with over 25 years of professional experience. She performed across the nation from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia and New York. Her passion is using creative movement as a way to encourage performers with intellectual and developmental disabilities — including autism — to express themselves. It is no surprise that her students rave about her fun dance moves and encouraging support.
We met up with Sandra to learn more about her dance and theatre experience.
AS: Tell us about yourself. What is your background, and how did you get involved with ArtStream?
SR: I’m originally from South Jersey and started dancing when I was in elementary school. I studied modern dance and ballet in New Jersey and also in Philadelphia. I went to college in Boston at the Boston Conservatory of Music and earned a BFA in dance. I came to Washington DC for graduate school and earned an M.A. in dance from the American University.
After graduate school, I started working with older adults for Arts for the Aging (AFTA) and became interested in working more with the special needs population. I had worked with two of the ArtStream co-founders, Nicolette Stearns and Patti Woolsey. When a position opened up at ArtStream, I jumped right in!
AS: How did you first get involved in theatre?
SR: I started dancing when I was little and also took piano lessons for a number of years.
Taking dance classes was fun, but I also discovered that I loved making up dances. I would always play music and dance around the house. My dance teacher encouraged me to choreograph, and by high school, I was working as her assistant and teaching the toddler classes. I also started choreographing group and solo pieces for our annual performances.
AS: What is something the ArtStreamers would be surprised to find out about you?
SR: I am an avid reader! I love to read. I have stacks of books everywhere in my room. My favorite recently is historical fiction. I’m also into mystery, suspense, and cultural stories. If it looks good, I’ll read it.
AS: What do you feel is most important to offer your students?
SR: The opportunity to find their own creativity. To feel confident in what they are doing, no matter what it is. So much of our lives are spent following directions or playing by the rules. It’s important that students have the opportunity to express how they feel without judgment. In class, I like the students to share a move or rhythm, and we all follow what they are doing. It’s a great moment for the students to be a leader and share what they do best.
AS: What kinds of changes have you seen ArtStreamers make in your classes?
SR: I have seen many positive changes, even during this past year being on lockdown and having classes on Zoom. Students are more confident and expressive. Their movement vocabulary has grown, and some are more focused. It’s wonderful to see their progress.
AS: What is your favorite part of ArtStream?
SR: One of my favorite parts of Artstream is watching the ArtStream Theatre Company shows. The students work hard during the year putting together their ideas to create an original show that displays their unique talents. It’s amazing to watch the magic they create on stage.
AS: Why did you decide to become a Teaching Artist?
SR: I enjoy working with people of all ages, and teaching was an opportunity to share with others.
My passion for choreography also helped to fuel my interest in teaching. Teaching creative movement and dance allowed me to share with others what I love doing as an artist; helping my students find their own creative voice and combining their ideas to create more voices through movement.
AS: What advice would you give a new Teaching Artist?
SR: My advice to a new Teaching Artist would be to take your time, listen, be willing to be in the moment with your students, and go with any new ideas that might come up in class.
It’s always important to be prepared with a lesson, but don’t be afraid to let it go and work from where the students are. Allow them to help set the pace.
AS: Who is your biggest inspiration?
SR: I’ve been blessed to have had many positive influences throughout my life. Each teacher has been instrumental in helping to build my foundation as a teacher, artist, and performer. Growing up, my parents took me to see shows in NYC, and my ballet teacher would take us every year to see the Pennsylvania Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Dance Theater of Harlem, and Philadanco, which I had the opportunity to perform with.
AS: If you could create a new play or musical about anything, what would it be?
SR: Ars artis gratia – Art for Art’s sake. It would be fun to choreograph an abstract dance with moving shapes that can connect or move on their own – like a Rubik’s cube or 3D puzzle — to an original score.