26-year-old Sarah Curts’ dance career began at the age of four when her mother enrolled her into ballet at a local dance studio. The next year, the young dancer was enrolled into jazz. When asked by her mother which she wanted to do, Curts enthusiastically replied “both of them!”
“So, I did both of them. Every year I kept adding another class and another class,” said Curts.
A quiet child growing up, the Calgary-born dancer, artist, and model says what attracted her to dance was the freedom she found in being allowed to move and express herself without words.
At the age of twelve, Curts chose to pursue ballet professionally.
“That was the age where you had to decide whether or not you were serious about ballet,” Curts explained. “So, I started going to international summer schools – Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the Banff Centre, the American Academy of Ballet, and Alberta Ballet…I was always dancing.”
Navigating the ballet world was not easy, however, as expectations were high for students.
“This is what you’re doing and this how you do it, and you have to do it perfectly. That was the ballet world,” Curts said. “You had to be perfect and better that girl, otherwise you’re not going to get the part.”
Eventually, the pressure to succeed overwhelmed Curts as it began to affect other areas of her life.
“When I was twelve and decided I want to do ballet professionally, then it was like a really big push to ‘okay, let’s nail everything. Let’s be perfect. Let’s get higher grades. Let’s get higher legs’,” Curts said. “It became everything.”
“In high school, I was getting straight A’s and I was still like, ‘what more can I do?’ When you’re at that level and you’re doing hundred percent, you shouldn’t have to do more. Sometimes…eighty percent is good enough.”
The classically trained dancer found support in her mother and ballet teacher, who she says was like a second mother to her. Apart from them, however, Curts says it was a struggle she largely took on alone since she did not have many close friends whom she could reach out to for help. With all her attention focused on school and dance, there was not much time to develop close friendships, Curts explained.
After graduating high school, Curts moved to Toronto where she trained in contemporary and modern at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Living in Toronto, away from home, proved difficult for the emerging dancer.
“When I moved to Toronto, I was 17,” Curts said. “And that was…I wanted to get away and not like lash out, but [rebel] – get away from my mom and all these people. But then it was really hard because I had no social skills, because I was such a dancer! All I knew was dance. I was dancing with other dancers, but I didn’t know to interact with them, and they were all older than me. So, that was really hard.”
After two years in Toronto, Curts moved back home where she eventually completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Studies, with a minor in Psychology, at the University of Calgary.
“I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do, so I started in Open Studies,” Curts said. “And then, I was like ‘let’s just paint,’ because I was always an artist as well as a dancer.”
The impact of Curts’ struggles can be seen in both her art and choreography, she says.
“All of this stuff has really influenced my visual art,” Curts said. “With my visual art, especially in university, all the works I did were based around depression, eating disorders, and loneliness… that’s what healed me in a way.”
“In terms of dance choreography, my first few works revolved around these topics of self-questioning and self-understanding. The works I’ve done on groups have been more movement-based, like really physical movement. But I guess in a way it all came back to struggling, like everyone’s got some sort of journey or struggle, but you’re all in it together.”
This idea that everyone has their difficulties is what motivates Curts to share herself “fully and authentically” with the world via Instagram. On the popular photo-sharing app, though, most people know Curts as Sarah Bella (Butterfly), a name she adopted four years ago while working as a Go-go dancer.
An intimate performance of self, Curts’ Instagram account features a variety of personal meditations on life which are expressed through both words and movement. The account aims to demonstrate radical self-acceptance, Curts explains.
“The way I view it is that by being myself…I am encouraging others to do that as well,” Curts said. “Because really…you can get help from others, but no one can help you but yourself. I can tell them what worked for me or give them tools, but the only ones who can help them is them.”
People may also recognize Curts from the Arts Commons announcement video which launched last December. (The performing arts centre was formerly known as the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts). Taking part in the video, though, raised interesting questions for Curts about Calgary’s dance community.
“I was asked to be part of the Arts Commons rebranding video…so, I was like pretty much the face for the dance community of Calgary,” Curts said. “But what does that mean? How many people actually know me? A lot of them probably do, but I’m not really involved in that much.”
Furthermore, Curts continued, to say that there exists a cohesive dance community in Calgary is problematic considering the sheer number of dance studios in the city. Instead, she says, there exists pockets, pockets like U of C’s dance community, which she has been involved with in the past.
Regardless, though, Curts feels that she does not belong to any one artistic community, as either a visual artist or a dancer. Curts considers herself an outsider, fleeting like a butterfly who is here one moment, then flies away the next.
” I think that may just be who I am,” concluded Curts. “I am okay with being myself, and I’m okay with being different.”
For more information about Sarah Curts, visit her website: http://www.sarahbellabutterfly.com/
To follow Sarah on Instagram: https://instagram.com/sarahbellabutterfly/