We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Panayiotou and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Sarah, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
I started BABEL with so much excitement and enthusiasm for my work. I used to even joke that I loved it so much that if I could marry it, I would. One day a friend asked how I was, and I went on and on about BABEL. She patiently waited for me to finish, and then she gently said “That’s great, but how are YOU doing?” And, honestly, I could not answer. My life had become so intertwined with my startup that my identity was wound up with it.

Less than two years later, I found myself so deep into a sea of depression I had no idea what to do with myself. I had lost all interest in my work. I felt so discouraged right down to my core. The energy and love I had for BABEL was so far gone that even talking about it seemed like such a distant memory.

I had run myself into the ground. Setting ambitious goals to make sure we were moving in an upwards trajectory. To show our supporters and our audience that we are growing, thriving, despite the challenges of being a startup dance company. Because that was what I was told entrepreneurs do. We work hard. We create opportunities. We push ourselves further and further. We grow. I was just so confused about how in the pursuit of growth I withered so much.

I kept on comparing myself to my previous years to make sure that my business was advancing, without considering the context in which I was building it. I was not intentionally neglecting myself, but in an attempt to bring more life and hope into the world I lost my own. As a creator I had to come to terms that pursuing my own happiness was not selfish, but ultimately was the best thing I could do for anyone.

When I think of work-life balance now I focus on two things, having the will to work, and having the will to live. Being alive and not doing something that I love, slowly wears me into feeling purposeless. However, only finding happiness in my work and not the rest of my life ties my identity up with what I accomplish– so when things get tough I slowly sink into experiencing hopelessness.

To find a balance I ask myself, “What do I need in order to have hope and happiness in my life during this season?” The answer to that question is the context I am working out of, which leads to my second question, “Within the context I am in, what project will energize me the most?”

I need to want to live in order to bring life. I need to have hope in order to create. So I no longer think of work-life balance as an even scale, but rather as my life being much weightier and much more important. My life and work should not be balanced in the sense that they are even, but balanced in the way that they reflect my priorities: life, hope, and happiness.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Throughout my life, I have always gravitated towards dance and social justice. I had rarely questioned if these two passions were connected, nor had I reflected on what was fueling me, until I realized what my biggest obstacle was: being misunderstood. A childhood speaking disorder led me to find new avenues for communication, even when I overcame the challenges of speaking. Dance became my outlet and continues to be the most effective way of communicating my emotions, my deepest self, and my passions. I founded BABEL because I understand the feeling of being unheard and wanted to provide a new way for people to speak. I care about what we do because I care about the voices and stories of marginalized communities being fully understood.

BABEL uses dance as a tool for communication and healing by sharing social justice organizations’ stories creatively and by providing a space to heal and grow through embodiment workshops. Unlike other choreographers who use dance to advocate for human rights, we partner directly with the organizations that are on the ground doing the work by creating a completely customized production that meets the needs of the community.

We specialize in telling complex stories through movement and translate the pain of injustice when words are not enough. We form stories into movement and film to create a bridge of empathy that anchors the heart of a message into the hearts of supporters to increase the rate at which social justice organizations make an impact.

But we do not stop there. Our one-on-one or group sessions facilitate healing through actual movement. Our embodiment workshops provide a space to explore our physical and emotional relationships with our bodies and the past experiences that live within us.

At the end of the day our vision is simple: to break down barriers in order to increase understanding, empathy, and restoration in individuals and larger communities. My experience has taught me that dance transcends those barriers and deepens understanding and empathy between oneself and others, evoking a change of heart and the beginnings of healing our society. I would love the opportunity to hear your story, share your experience with the world, and make a difference while we’re at it.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I really need to shoutout my family for supporting my ambitious dreams. Although I am the daughter of immigrants, where work is not so much about interests and identity but more of a means to survive, I was always encouraged to pursue what made me happy. So while other dancers’ parents were encouraging them to choose a more stable career path, my family was cheering me on. There is so much rejection and discouragement in this field that I do not think I would of been able to make it without them.

I would also like to shoutout Lexi Balfour, a dear advisor, friend, and inspiration of mine. For someone who has accomplished so much, and actively loves not being put in a box it was her words of wisdom that got me through my toughest times, “Your life and your work does not need to look like anyone else’s. It does not even need to look like the work you did the year before. It is yours to chose.” She helps me combat comparison left and right. Everybody needs a pal who is on their side like that.

Website: https://babelmovement.org/

Instagram: @babelmovement

Youtube: https://vimeo.com/babelmovement

Image Credits
JP Pacheco Remy Goza Patrick Kosmowski

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.