March is National Youth Arts Month, so today, we’re exited to highlight one of the teaching artists who makes CLARA’s in-school arts programs such a success.

Meet Emilee Chew-Bien Mercado.

Emilee Chew teaches hip hop to CLARA board members

Emilee has been a teaching artist with CLARA for the past three years (you’ll read more about how that started, below), teaching at Will C. Wood Middle School, Woodbine & Elder Creek Elementary Schools, and our inaugural Patrons at Play program. She’s also the dance teacher on CLARA Classroom — CLARA’s virtual arts learning portal.

Here’s a little more about her:

How did you get involved with CLARA?

I first started getting involved with CLARA through my great friend and mentor, Tony Nguyen. We’ve been dancing and working together for over 10 years now, and I am beyond grateful that Tony connected me to the powerhouse-of-a-human, Emili Danz. I absolutely love when there is an organization with such an amazing purpose — and even more amazing people powering that purpose. (Shoutout to ALL of the amazing individuals behind CLARA!)

Aside from becoming a teaching artist with CLARA, I’ve also had the opportunity to rehearse and perform in the CLARA Auditorium through TwoPoint4 Dance Theater, coordinate events in the space through Night Walker Sessions, and attend others through other artists in the community.

Over the past several years, CLARA and my paths have always been intertwined in some way, shape, or form.

What creative projects are you working on right now?

I am currently co-directing a women’s rights dance film with Ashley Celaya and TwoPoint4 Dance Theater which will air this spring. With the help of Tony, Emili, and CLARA, this project is funded by a grant from the California Arts Council.

Aside from creating everyday lesson plans and choreography at Hawkins School of Performing Arts, I’ve been piloting a new class that blends the technique I’ve developed from my hip-hop and modern/contemporary background. I’m hoping to expand on sharing the knowledge I have with movement exploration, as the unorthodox blending-of-styles has allowed me to express myself and move freely without feeling the pressure of conforming to one specific style.

Why do you love being a teaching artist?

Being a teaching artist with CLARA has been such a rewarding experience. One of the main reasons why I absolutely love teaching dance is being able to share the life lessons and skills we learn along the way. Whether that be learning/refining dance technique, strengthening one’s work ethic, discovering individuality, thinking analytically and creatively, gaining confidence, or just finding the ability to release and have fun. The arts are so essential.

Growing up, I didn’t have many opportunities to participate in programs like the ones offered by CLARA. It wasn’t until high school where I developed my love and appreciation for dance. I honestly did not know how much I needed it, or any other outlet of expression, until then. Although my family has been nothing but supportive of my creative profession, I still come from a culture of Iu-Mien refugees where art is not often talked about as a career option, let alone something to invest too much time into. Because I realize this is something that is unfortunately still very common in households of many different backgrounds, it means the world to me to be able to come around full-circle, connect with the youth in our community, and provide them with the tools and fundamentals to discover more for themselves.