From Bunker Dance to The World Stage: Meet Professional Contemporary Dancer Haley Heckethorn

Photograph by Alyssa Jorgensen

Article by Yulita Zavada

Haley Heckethorn still remembers the first time she saw the Bunker Dance Team perform and thought to herself: “this is where I need to be.” On the stage, she recalls watching a group of girls execute their moves with artistry, intention and style. 

Haley knew she wanted to be a dancer from the moment she could walk, and watching the dancers perform showed her a path to get there. She went on to train at Bunker and compete on the professional team. At eighteen, she continued her training at Arts Umbrella Graduate Program in Vancouver, BC. Soon after graduation, Haley landed her first job as an apprentice for her idol and acclaimed dancer, Cindy Salgado. She has also trained at Springboard Danse Montreal, Nederlands Dans Theater, San Francisco Conservatory and the Banff Center for the Arts.

Now she trains and performs all over the world, from the likes of Los Angeles to Hong Kong. As her career continues to unfold, Haley often finds herself back at Bunker Dance Center in Las Vegas, teaching and reflecting on the place where she attributes to so much of her success. We sat down with her to see how Bunker has influenced her career and what it is that keeps her coming back: 

B: What first drew you to Bunker as a young dancer?

HH: I first saw Bunker perform at a dance competition and I thought they were mature, technically strong, and had incredible artistry. I knew that if I wanted to pursue dance, I had to be at a place like Bunker. I immediately started dancing and training at Bunker five to six days a week, every day after school. We trained in all genres of dance—ballet, contemporary, jazz, flamenco, even Bollywood. It was so different from what any other studios were doing at the time. 

B: In what ways did your training at Bunker prepare you for life as a professional dancer? 

HH: The people who Kathy brings in to teach are professional dancers that have had long careers, as well as a lot of amazing guest choreographers outside of Las Vegas. It gave me the opportunity to train with some really incredible people early in my career. Like Peter Chu, who still teaches at Bunker and has his own dance company called Chuthis that I had the opportunity to perform with. I also trained with Naomi Stikeman, who trained at the National Ballet of Canada and danced with Lalala Human Steps. She found herself in Vegas working on the Celine Dion show at the time. She’s an incredible dancer and teacher, so learning from her was a dream come true. 

B: What were the most fun and rewarding aspects of dancing at Bunker as a kid?

HH: I would say that Bunker has a lot of focus on the creative process. It’s not just about winning first place or producing national titles—it goes deeper and takes a holistic, artistic approach to dance. We also learned about our health and how to nurture our bodies to have long careers, and we were instilled with the discipline and work ethic necessary to not only become successful dancers but also individuals. It was never just about your talent, but what you’re like as a person and teammate. 

B: What makes you want to come back and teach at Bunker? 

HH: It really is a home and safe place for me. It’s where I became an artist. And when I go back, I know the dancers are going to be mature and disciplined. Dancing at Bunker really instills a drive and hunger in young dancers which is so rewarding to work with—they want the information, the criticism and the work. It’s just as fulfilling for me to teach them as it is for them to have me there.

B: What is some advice that you would give to a young dancer just starting out?

My advice for young dancers would be to try everything and be open to exploration. Find out what you like and what calls to you, but don’t be afraid to venture outside of your comfort zone. If you really like ballet, you should still try tap dance or hip hop dance classes. You’re still going to learn about yourself as a dancer even if it’s as simple as new vocabulary, so just give it a shot and stay open to the process. You may end up surprising yourself.