Best of Arts & Smarts

Best ballet teacher with Sacto gusto: Zara Hayes

Ballet instructor Zara Hayes said, “I needed to have a home base, and Sacramento is it.”

Ballet instructor Zara Hayes said, “I needed to have a home base, and Sacramento is it.”

Photo By Anne Stokes

Zara Hayes is loyal to Sacramento—but grew up living a nomadic childhood.

“My first home was a Winnebago,” she recalls. Hayes was the child of a ballet dancer, and it’s apparent, as she describes things like her toddler years, spent while her mother danced in a Disney on Parade traveling show, that it informed her existence. During this life on the road in both the United States and England, she played backstage with the children of Brit rockers Marc Bolan and David Bowie while their parents were rehearsing and performing.

So, it didn’t take much encouragement for Hayes to start dancing. By the time she started lessons—age 2-and-a-half—she’d “already become known for stealing tights and pointe shoes from my mother,” she said.

Hayes went from student to apprentice, including a stint at the Sacramento Ballet, and then to performer, eventually dancing with the Oakland Ballet until the company closed. Then she came back to Sacramento, where her mother runs the Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet school in El Dorado Hills. She was doing some teaching—that is, until fate intervened, in the form of a truck.

“It broke my face,” Hayes said of her collision with the vehicle near a Sacramento off-ramp. She was riding a bike with no helmet. “Literally, my fact was flat. For months, I had to sleep sitting up in bed.”

The recovery period left her with a lot of time for introspection—not to mention gratitude that things weren’t worse. That period resulted in “a sort of rebirth.” Two major things came from that self-reflection.

“I’d never had a home base, really, and I decided to make one for myself [in Sacramento],” Hayes said. “Sure, I can go off to work somewhere for a short while, but I needed to have a home base, and Sacramento is it.”

The next decision was to see what she could add to the local arts scene, which, she says, had “totally transformed since I first came to Sacramento.”

And that led to partnering with local promoter Clay Nutting, and musical acts Sister Crayon and Exquisite Corps on two Ballet + Live Local Music concerts.

“People who’ve only seen live music could see ballet. People who’d only seen ballet could see live music,” Hayes said. “Put both together, and it’s greater than the sum of its parts.”

Hayes is now teaching again, at the Firehouse 5 dance studio. With any luck, more collaborations between ballet dancers and local bands will be on the horizon. Firehouse 5, 2014 B Ninth Street; (916) 549-5299;;