Carla Hughes is a lifelong resident of Erie, Pa. Her passion for dance started at age nine when she was enrolled at Little Dance Studio.
“I saw my cousins perform,” she explained, “and I said, I want to do that.”
Her love for dance grew as she attended the School for the Performing and Visual Arts for high school and continued her studies into college, attending Point Park University for her Bachelor’s degree and Ohio State University for her Master’s.
But, even after the completion of her education, her love of dance has grown nonstop.
When watching television or doing housework, she will be moving so long as music is playing. She can’t help but move.
“I don’t know if I’d do anything else," Hughes said. "I’ve never had a desire to do anything else.”
She has, however, begun acting and singing in addition to dancing so that today she considers herself to be a performer.
“The love of dance introduced me to acting, which has become a second love of mine, and then ultimately singing,” Hughes said. “So performing on that one level opened up more doors for me to perform on multiple levels.”
Hughes teaches dance and physical education through the Erie School District and has her own solo performance company, SheWorks. But since early October, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday she can be found after school at East High School working with Life Thru Dance students.
She saw Life Thru Music perform several times at the showcases her dance company attended, when she decided she wanted to assist the program.
Hughes spoke with Corey Cook, program director of Life Thru Music, asking how she could contribute. He suggested adding a dance component.
“I decided to get involved because I wanted to do more in the community,” Hughes said, “and just had an interest in assisting Corey with the program and started talking to him a little bit about how I could get involved.”
Living In Fulfilled Excellence Inc. (LIFE) is a locally-based nonprofit organization founded in 2012 by Erica Willis. LIFE’s goal is to empower youth, through elite educational and creative arts opportunities, to become self-sufficient citizens within the Erie community. At the heart of their work is a desire to help youth develop a vision of their “possible self” that reflects high academic and career aspirations.
“Carla adds another dimension to our organization,” Cook said, "Being able to have dance incorporated into what we do is big for us and to have someone of her caliber and with her experience and professionalism is priceless for us.”
Cook added that “Carla is not only an excellent role model for our students, but she is an inspiration to the youth of our city. She is an example that regardless of your race, gender, or ethnic background you can achieve your dream, do what you love, and at the same time have a positive and meaningful impact on others.”
With the Life Thru Dance program, Hughes began by teaching the students fundamental skills, but hopes to help them develop stronger techniques as the classes continue. Program participants will also be encouraged to develop their own dance style, create choreography, and learn dance improvisation to enhance the performance skills needed to successfully execute dance on stage.
Hughes has been teaching for over 20 years with special emphases in Jazz, Modern, and Hip Hop. She incorporates traditional modern techniques with her own style of release, Jazz and Neo-soul, to create contemporary movement.
“I hope that they gain some new skills in dance and feel like they’ve learned something that they can take with them… [so] they have some tools and some real skills that they can use in their lives moving forward,” Hughes said.
Brooklyn Gordon began attending Life Thru Music when it first started. She started by learning the piano and singing, but was excited to join the Life Thru Dance program when she met Hughes.
“It’s really fun,” she said. “The teachers, they are nice. They are—I don’t know how to explain it—but they care.”
For more info, see this video produced by Ciara Smith.