When 17-year-old Jared Stern was 6, he auditioned for an elite competitive dance team at Center Stage in Farmingdale. The youngster from Seaford had never taken the standard set of tap, jazz and lyrical classes, and the only pair of shoes he had to wear to the tryout were ballet slippers from Payless.
Stern ended up competing alongside seven girls who would become some of his closest friends. Once foreign to his young but excited feet, tapping now “feels like home,” he said.
“There really are no rules — it’s all about the rhythm and sound you want to make,” he explained. “You can express whatever you’re feeling with your feet, which I think is the coolest feeling in the world.”
Stern, now a senior at MacArthur High School and the Nassau BOCES Long Island High School for the Arts, has made his mark on the local dance scene, winning several awards, founding the regional chapter of the National Honor Society for Dance Arts and sharing his love of the art form with special-needs students.
Stern began dancing when he was 5, following in the footsteps of his sister, Jamie. Jared said that his mother, Barbara, noticed that he would jump around and try to mimic his sister’s and her friends’ movements while sitting in a dance studio waiting room, so she asked her son if he wanted to take Irish step dancing classes, too.
Stern said that dancing competitively taught him to set goals. In addition to LISHA, he also performs with Arrhythmia Dance Company, in Smithtown, and the East Coast Artists Dance Center. The latter group took first place in the Rainbow National Dance Competition last June in Panama City, Fla. Stern also took part in the 2016 Star Dance Alliance World Dance Championship, where his team took home a top 10 rating.
When Stern started high school, he recalled, he began gravitating toward contemporary dance. Inspired by Sonya Tayeh and Travis Wall, choreographers of “So You Think You Can Dance?” fame, he began to create his own pieces, which reflected his emotions.
“Whatever feeling you have, you can express in a movement,” he said. “When you get to high school and everything is more stressful, it really becomes a therapeutic sort of thing.”
He has also incorporated social issues in his art. One such work, called “The Facade of 740 Park Ave,” was accepted by Dance Up! A National Platform of Emerging Choreographers. Stern will perform the dance, which tells the story of a man who comes into wealth and faces moral dilemmas, at Buttenwieser Hall in Manhattan on April 22 at 8 p.m.
“It’s a three-minute contemporary piece about my issues with the world,” he said with a laugh, noting that the piece was originally a LISHA project. “It was a way for me to express my thoughts about what was going on politically. No one listens to a high school student or cares what you have to say, but when I put this dance out there, it affected a lot of people.”
Stern said that attending LISHA was a life-changing experience, and joked that it was incredible to be surrounded by teens from across the region who also had “crazy dreams.” Because he wanted to give back to the school, he helped Dina Denis-Paolucci, LIHSA’s lead dance teacher, found the National Honor Society for Dance Arts in February.
“These are high-achieving students with evolving artistry and a genuine interest in so many areas of the arts,” Denis-Paolucci, who spearheaded the effort to achieve national recognition for her students, said of Stern and the six other inductees. “This is a huge accomplishment for our program.”
Through LISHA, Stern said, he also became involved with the Rosemary Kennedy Dance Collaborative. The organization makes it possible for students at the Rosemary Kennedy School, in Wantagh, to learn dances from and perform alongside LISHA students and teachers.
Stern has been involved with the program for two years. Recalling one of the first monthly sessions, at which everyone happily bopped across the floor to Taylor Swift tunes, he said he was grateful to have the opportunity to work with special-needs students.
“They were just the sweetest people,” he said of his first sessions with the group last year. “To see how much dance and music meant to them and how liberating it was for them … it’s really humbling.”
MacArthur Principal Joseph Sheehan pointed out that Stern is also an accomplished student. He was one of 20 recipients of an Award of Merit from the Long Island Scholar Artist Program last summer. He is also a member of the National Honor Society and the World Language Honor Society for Spanish.
“He is a very determined young man, and he is not going to let anything stand in his way,” Sheehan said. “I don’t know if there is any limit on his star power.”
Stern is auditioning for college dance programs across New York City and Long Island, and ultimately hopes to perform in a Broadway ensemble — though he acknowledged with a smile that he needs to work on his singing. “I always like to push myself,” he said.