Passion for dance, teaching energizes ASU grad

woman in dance pose in front of Old Main building

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Helping at-risk youth to find confidence and embrace artistic expression through dance is second nature to Chareka Daniel.

Raised in a low-income family, she had no money for dance lessons to fuel her passion.

“I taught myself to dance by watching the movie 'Save the Last Dance,' ” Daniel said. “I studied Julia Styles’ audition scene every single day, sometimes 10 times a day to learn the technique.”

A teacher in her school gave her the first real words of encouragement.

“She always told me, 'You’re going to make it. … There’s something different about you.' She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself as a creative dancer,” Daniel said.

These words helped Daniel gain the confidence to pursue her goals. She began to use dance as a way to channel any negativity in her life into the positivity that eventually helped her earn a master’s in fine arts from the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.

Her first formal training came as an undergrad at James Madison University in Virginia. Her natural talent earned her scholarships to attend the American Dance Festival and Laban Dance Studio in London.

Daniel wants to continue to teach after graduation in order to empower people through the same creative movement that has helped her.

“Everyone has something to offer, and just as someone gave that to me, I want to give that to them. This is me. This is who I am,” Daniel said.

Daniel focuses on how creative movement can teach youth how to collaborate with others, how to be creative and how to take ownership of their own lives.

“In graduate school I’ve learned and utilized different teaching strategies and methods,” she said.

In addition to student teaching at Williams Field High School, Daniel’s thesis project was a performance at Herberger Institute’s Margaret Gisolo Dance Studio called “Linked Together.” It resulted from a four-month program for a group of girls from a local Boys & Girls Club.

“I learned these kids are already inherently creative; I just gave them the space,” she said.

One of her students in particular demonstrated a dramatic shift in confidence over the course of the program. The young girl came to the program afraid of performing, shy and seldom making eye contact. This same young girl stepped out on the performance stage four months later and boldly proclaimed, “I am just a 10-year-old girl living an extraordinary life!”

Although her research focuses on ages 5-16, Daniel has accumulated experience teaching a wide variety of audiences. She has taught at high schools and at ASU, and she has even traveled abroad to teach in orphanages in India and Panama.

“I have been so blessed. If it weren’t for the graduate college I would not be in school. I am so grateful. ASU has helped me grow, develop as a professional artist. ASU has given me a space where I can look in the mirror and say ‘I am capable of anything,” she said.

As a recipient of the Special Talent Award, Deans Fellowship and Reach for the Stars Fellowship, Daniel will be graduating this May with zero student loans. Her hard work and dedication will continue to help her empower youth and adults through creative movement.

After graduating she plans to spend her time this summer keeping in shape as a Zumba instructor and finishing testing for her K-12 teaching certificate.

By Lizzy Ackerman, Provost Communications intern