Face to Face: Monica Bill Barnes

Monica Bill Barnes is on a roll. The Carol Burnett of dance, Barnes dazzles audiences with her quirky humor and examination of the elegant in the awkward. This summer her nonstop career momentum continues with the American Dance Festival debut of Monica Bill Barnes & Company in  Another Parade; a Jacob’s Pillow residency and world premiere of Mostly Fanfare; and a season at The Joyce in New York City. The California native’s virtuosic stumbling, tripping and falling have single-handedly assured a place for humor in the canon of contemporary dance.

 

Monica Bill Barnes (far left), Deborah Lohse, Anna Bass and Celia Rowlson-Hall in Another Parade

Since moving to The Big Apple in 1995, Barnes has put 12 evening-length works under her belt, along with an MFA from NYU/Tisch School of the Arts and an extensive repertory performed throughout NYC and in 30 cities around the globe. She has received numerous grants and recognitions for her groundbreaking work, and she has served as a guest artist at University of North Carolina School of the Arts and at her undergraduate alma mater, the University of California, San Diego. Barnes, along with company members Anna Bass, Charlotte Bydwell and Celia Rowlson-Hall, teach master classes and residencies throughout the United States.

 

Click here to watch an excerpt of Monica Bill Barnes & Company performing Another Parade.

 

 

Barnes (left) and Anna Bass in Mostly Fanfare

Dance Teacher: How did pairing dance and comedy come about?

Monica Bill Barnes: I never set out to make funny work. I made intensely dramatic work in college. I backed into comedy. Humor comes out of unexpected situations. We often don’t know it until the audience lets out a laugh.

 

DT: Does this change your approach to performance?

MBB: We like to show our flaws. Things don’t go as planned. We are performers, not beautiful dancers that people are in awe of. But the one thing we do quite well is stumble. It blows my mind that people pay money to see my dancers and me. You can fall on your face in the first eight counts and that’s endlessly interesting. The potential for failure and success every time the curtain goes up is profoundly amazing.

 

DT: You are known for your large-scale site-specific works like Limelight, a splashy, fun romp performed in a fountain. What are the key ideas when creating site-specific work?

MBB: We carry the theater on our backs. You take away all the security of a seated audience, with the lights pointing at you. It has to be compelling enough that people will stop and watch. There are certain rules of thumb. You have to psychically  embrace the fact that you are performing on concrete. Don’t have dancers doing jetés on grass. Always take care of the dancers.

I made a piece at Wave Hill, a beautiful park in the Bronx. I picked this rolling hill. It was a huge site, and I am not a very big person. I just killed myself trying to match the site. It was a good lesson. Don’t just pick a beautiful site. Think about context.

 

DT: When it comes to teaching master classes, do you teach the phrases from your works?

MBB: I used to, but it was too frustrating and narrow-minded. I prefer to give students less idiosyncratic phrases. I try to assess where they are skill-wise so I am not giving them movement beyond their grasp. I like to flip the class on its head by starting with across-the-floor movement, so we are dancing the entire time. I put on some great Stevie Wonder music. I show simple phrases just once, and everyone follows along.

 

DT: Who has been the biggest influence on your artistry?

MBB: I was lucky to have Jean Isaacs at UC San Diego as my primary technique teacher. She had this incredible way of pulling from other sources like Limón and reinventing them to be her own. I was able to understand so much about the way my body moved, what was possible and how to develop my skill in order to be an artist. DT

 

 

A guild-certified Feldenkrais teacher, Nancy Wozny reports on arts and health from Houston, TX. She is a 2004 Gary Parks Memorial Award winner for emerging dance critics.

Photos from top: by Steven Schreiber; by David Wilson Barnes, both courtesy of Monica Bill Barnes

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Kyle Froman

Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.

Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."

Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.

"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"

Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.

Hoover took over as artistic director at CPYB in the spring this year after Weary died suddenly, and while she's committed to continuing Weary's legacy, students have begun to see some of Hoover's vision as well.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, has been called the Queen of Fundraising by colleagues. A studio owner and high school dance coach with over four decades of experience, Clough is known for her smart and successful fundraising ideas.

Now, Just For Kix has created a new online tool to help everyone tackle their fundraising goals, whether you're raising money for uniforms, extra classes, or to cover the cost of travel for your dance team's next convention.

Clough shared a few of her best fundraising tips, including everything you need to know about the new tool:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Jessica Kubat (center) with her studio staff. Photo by Vincent Alongi, courtesy of Kubat

Jessica Kubat's path to becoming a studio owner wasn't typical or glamorous or the product of a family business, handed down. When she opened MJ's House of Dance in Lindenhurst, New York, this past summer, she had just turned 40, was a mom of three, and had worked at two different studios long-term. Over the last two and a half years, she'd painstakingly saved up $25,000 and had gone to the Small Business Development Center at a local college on Long Island for help creating her business plan. Her area was moderately saturated with studios, so she spent considerable time planning what would set her school apart—live musical accompaniment, for one—and hired a marketing director nine months before the business even opened. It was a methodical, careful approach—Kubat calls it "the old-fashioned way"—to opening a studio, and it's paid off: She started summer classes with 75 students and is well on her way to reaching her first-year enrollment goal of 250 dancers. "When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to do something bigger," says Kubat. "I always wanted to own a studio—it was just never financially available to me."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
From left: Daniel Novikov, Alla Novikova and Mishella Vishnevskiy at Blackpool 2018. Photo by NYC Digital Media, courtesy of Alla Novikova

Alla Novikova began her dance training at a ballroom studio called Edelweiss in Saratov, Russia, when she was 9 years old. She was immediately recognized for her natural talent and work ethic, placing third at the Russian Open just three months after beginning ballroom lessons. The lessons she learned at Edelweiss shaped her career and provided the foundation she needed to open her own ballroom studio: Work hard to prove that you're good enough to be here, and give honor to the experiences that brought you to where you are today.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Professions across the globe hold yearly conferences, and the dance industry is certainly no exception. Annual conferences exist for dance teachers, dance medicine professionals, dance educators and more. Taking the time out to attend them can be well worth your while for a number of different reasons. Let's take a closer look at four of them.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Father-daughter dance. Photo by Lisa Lee, courtesy of Dance Academy USA

Your year-end recital is your studio's pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Not only is it the time for your dancers to celebrate what they've accomplished during the year, it's your opportunity to demonstrate to parents firsthand the value of a dance education. A successful recital can also grant your school an influential role in the local community. Whether a prominent conservatory or a small-town studio, and whether your dancers win competitions or take classes once a week, your year-end recital is the chance for your dancers—and your program—to shine.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2019? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo courtesy of Z Artists Group

New York City–based pre-professional training troupe Z Artists Group, along with dancers from eight professional companies in the city, are joining together to combat gun violence with, "DANCERS DEMAND ACTION," a performance aligning art with activism at The Joyce Theater, this Monday, November 11, at 7:30 pm.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.

Infinite Flow is a Los Angeles–based wheelchair ballroom dance company (the first of its kind in the U.S.) that incorporates an equal number of disabled and nondisabled dancers, as well as a range of styles like hip hop, contemporary and other partner dances.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending

Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

Savion Glover is one of the biggest names in the dance world, and perhaps the biggest in the tap world. The trailblazing hoofer's hard-hitting, rhythmically intricate style has fundamentally altered the tap landscape.

Glover is also a master teacher. But during his many years on the scene, he's never appeared regularly at a major dance convention. That is, until this season: Glover is now teaching at JUMP Dance Convention, scheduled to appear at approximately 15 more cities on its 2019–2020 tour.

We talked with JUMP director Mike Minery, himself a gifted hoofer, about working with a living legend—and how Glover is already changing the convention class game.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox