"I feel blessed to be a member of the Sacred Dance Guild and to be among so many different types of dancers who come to the Festival," said Yarbor, a popular workshop presenter and performer at SDG events. His class, Rising to New Heights, is a modern jazz dance approach designed to "charge up your energy, liberate your body, and free your spirit. Like all the classes and workshops at SDG Festivals, it's designed for dancers of all levels," said Yarbor who will also perform in the Festival's faculty concert.
Yarbor is one of several prominent presenters in the sacred dance field who will lead workshops, teach classes, and perform at the Festival. (read more/ hide)
Wesley Yarbor: From Stages to Churches
Tall and strongly built, with a vivid physical presence, Yarbor danced with the Ailey company from 1979 to 1986, performed in the hit Broadway show Dancin,' and later joined the Riverside Dance Company, based at Manhattan's famed Riverside Church. His path to the Sacred Dance Guild seems natural. Though AADT is not a sacred dance group, a sense of spirituality permeates numerous works in the company repertory, particularly Revelations, the best-known and most loved dance choreographed by company founder, the late Alvin Ailey.
Like Ailey, Yarbor is an African American who was influenced as a dancer and choreographer by the worship experiences of his childhood. "My family attended a Baptist church where the worship was lively and loud," he said. An exuberant personality himself, Yarbor also affirms the strong dance tradition in African American worship. "It's part of who we are, how we relate to God," he explained.
Early Background to Ballet and Broadway
Yarbor grew up in Westchester, New York in a large family that enjoyed singing and dancing together for recreation. Being a professional dancer was not in the young man's mind. Attending college did not seem likely either. "There were 11 kids in our family," he explained. "My mother didn't have the money to pay for college." But when his high school gym teacher needed males for a dance performance, Yarbor was recruited and discovered an aptitude for movement. Shortly after, a friend told him about a dance audition at State University of New York (SUNY). Yarbor went to the audition and, with very little previous training, landed a scholarship to study dance at the university. "Dance gave my life a new direction," he declared.
Though he hated ballet at first – "Light and airy is not my style," he says - Yarbor persisted and eventually landed a full scholarship to the Ailey school. "When I first got there, I felt out of my element," he confessed, but training with Judith Jamison, William Bales, and other influential teachers built his confidence. "Working with Judith was fantastic," he said. "Her stuff was hard, but you really learned from it." He also trained with prominent teachers from other disciplines, studying ballet with Arthur Mitchell at Dance Theater of Harlem and jazz with Luigi. "I've always loved Luigi's style," he said.
The dancer performed first with the Ailey II company and eventually moved into the main company, dancing in numerous works, including Revelations. He also had the opportunity to work with other prominent choreographers, such as Anna Sokolow and Twyla Tharp. "You really become a family at Ailey," he recalls. "Everybody looked out for each other. Rehearsals went on forever, and the dedication you experience in a major dance company is fantastic."
A resident of West Haven, Connecticut where he lives with his wife, Lisa, Yarbor teaches dance at the University of New Haven and works with sacred dance groups in the area, particularly at St. Luke's Church in New Haven. He describes his path into sacred dance as accidental. "A woman in New Haven asked me to teach a master class at her church for a festival," he said. Soon after, someone from SDG contacted him and invited him to teach at a conference.
Since then, the dynamic teacher and choreographer has joined the organization and become a passionate advocate for the transforming power of dance, especially with regard to youth. "Dance made a difference for me, and I want the kids I work with to have the chance that I had," he explains. "When you dance for God, you dance for the highest audience."
Read more about the presenters and events at Festival 2010.
Follow Wesley's example. Join SDG and save on your Festival registration!