By Alix Norman
There’s something about Sarah. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but somehow our 60-minute interview has just passed the three-hour mark. And we’re still chatting. We’ve talked about life and love, kids and marriage, world views and upbringing. She was raised in the Middle East but feels that Cyprus is her true home, comes from a background in teaching, and – most importantly – is a passionate advocate of inspiration and creativity in education.
A born teacher, Sarah Milne Diogenous is the founder and owner of Dance Katz Performing Arts, a centre of excellence in the training of young performers. An independent establishment, the centre offers a highly professional education for those wishing to pursue a career in musical theatre and dance, and, under Sarah’s expert tutelage, there’s already a distinguished list of Dance Katz alumni studying at some of the top universities in Europe.
“A passion for theatre – that was my first love,” reveals this inspiring young woman. “I got into dance from a very young age, and though my parents wanted me to pursue a ‘proper’ education, my theatrical background always stood me in good stead.” It’s an appetite that’s seen her progress through the years from a tap-dancing child gate-crashing her parents’ dinner parties, to a Special Needs teacher with a penchant for teaching through drama; from sought-after West End performer to the proprietor of a dance school empire in London.
“I trained originally as a nursery teacher,” she continues, “and I worked with special needs children from a very young age. It made me grow up quite quickly, but at the same time it allowed me to discover that I had a great rapport with children, especially when we used dance and music and drama as a method of communication – it gave them something very different from their more usual regimented education.” Realising that she could put these talents to good use, Sarah retrained in her preferred fields, attending the renowned Bird College of Theatre Arts in the UK, and attaining a BA in Dance and Theatre Performance.
“It was extremely disciplined!” she exclaims with a wry grimace. “We were on the barre at seven every morning. But it was worth it for my career.” As she lists her accomplishments, I can certainly see her point: she’s performed in the West End, been the star of pantomime, appeared in innumerable music videos; she’s sung with Joss Stone, and counts some of the world’s best-known actors among her circle of friends. “I absolutely loved it,” she says, “but it was a very tough life: being your own boss, always prepared for castings, constant rejection; you have to be very, very focused.” It must, however, have been excellent training for the next stage of her career: that total utter concentration and dedicated application a boon in her move into full-time teaching.
“It all comes back to education, the desire to pass on one’s knowledge and experience to young kids who want to do what I have,” she says, her face lighting up. “So I started my own school.” Within three years, the UK-based division of Dance Katz had gone from one teacher and one student, to 18 members of staff, 250-plus pupils and three separate venues across London, a testament to Sarah’s passion, drive and educational talents. And riding high on that legacy, she’s come to Cyprus to do the same.
“I had mixed feelings about leaving the UK,” she admits, “but it’s great to have the challenge of a new start in Cyprus.” Used to travelling round on tour, the move was no problem for Sarah who “packed a suitcase and jumped on a plane. I’d visited before, of course” – she married her husband, Costas, on the island in 2007 – “but living here is a different matter; I feel very connected to Cyprus, it’s my home and I think I’ve really come into my own here, especially in terms of creativity.”
Cyprus, she says, has inspired her, and she couldn’t be happier. Not only is she running the highly successful Dance Katz programme for those aged between 12 and 20, she’s also started the Kitty Katz Club for two to seven-year-olds. While the older students complete a programme geared towards taking the Trinity Guildhall College musical theatre examinations – “we’re able to train our pupils in all genres, giving them the experience of professional theatre, television work, and the like” –the younger children are afforded the opportunity to participate in a tailor-made stage school syllabus, written by Sarah herself.
“I couldn’t find a musical theatre syllabus that I felt would adequately challenge and inspire my students,” she says, “so I wrote my own. What I didn’t realise was that it would come this far!” Currently in talks with British publishing houses (as well as running a successful Kitty Katz teacher training programme) Sarah has created a fun-filled educational programme complete with self-penned tales, songs, music and dances. “All of our materiel has a message of friendship: caring about one another, being equal, teamwork. It’s got animation, a great story, and characters the children can really relate to, as well as being very educational,” she explains. “We only started Kitty Katz two years ago,” she adds, “but it’s working really well! The children want more, the parents want more… it’s exploded!”
With the official launch of the new premises (a wonderful high-ceilinged, light-filled space, the cupboards overflowing with imaginative props and costumes) happening today, it’s certainly been a long – but very fulfilling – road. “I’ve dedicated my life to my work,” she concludes. “At the end of the day, when your child comes here, they’re treated as special, unique individuals, and what they create is very important to us. My motto has always been to build on their strengths and nurture their weaknesses. Basically, to inspire.”
And that, perhaps, is what makes Sarah so likeable, her dedication to motivating our next generation. It’s easy to see why she’s a hit with both children and parents alike: such genuine enthusiasm – coupled with her formidable talents – is a rare gift indeed. There’s most definitely something about Sarah!
The new premises of Dance Katz Performing Arts open today at number 4,Pindou Street, Engomi. Families are invited to visit the school, ask questions and take part in some of the trial sessions between the hours of 10am and 6pm. Registration takes place tomorrow and on Tuesday; further information about the programme, facilities and location can be found by visiting www.dancekatzpa.com, [email protected] or Tel: 97 828730