“If you can’t make your passion your vocation, make it your avocation.”
Arlington magazine calls her the city’s “favorite redhead.” The Washington Post praises her “warmth of personality” and “earnest goodwill.” Reviews calls her work “theatrically arresting” and “terrifically fun” and praise her proclivity for finding “inspiration in some unlikely places.”
A self-described “ballerina with a rock habit,” Lucy Bowen McCauley is founder and artistic director of the Arlington, Virginia-based company Bowen McCauley Dance (BMD). Since founding BMD in 1996, Bowen McCauley has choreographed a plethora of performances ranging from lyrical ballets to modern rock pieces. She keeps the audience on its toes by infusing pieces with exciting innovations ranging from poetry to jazz, flute to drums, Beethoven to the Ramones.
Given her penchant for innovation, it’s no surprise that Bowen McCauley has garnered countless awards and honors for her work, including Nonprofit of the Year by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, Outstanding Achievement in Dance Education by Dance Metro DC, the James B. Hunter III Community Hero Award (for her work with Dance for Parkinson’s Disease; read more below), and last but not least, the Elizabeth Campbell Award for the Advancement of the Arts by the AAUW Arlington (VA) Branch.
Bowen McCauley, who has been a proud AAUW member since 2010, talked with me about her passion for dance, her work with the Parkinson Foundation, and her tips for young women breaking into the arts.
Can you describe your relationship with dance? What attracts you to it? What does it offer you?
As a young child, I loved music and studied piano and cello. I was also a very athletic tomboy! I discovered that I had an aptitude for dance and that it was a perfect way to combine my passions for both music and movement. Choreography allows me to use bodies in space to express emotion and enhance music.
What has been your favorite piece that you’ve either danced in or choreographed? What about it did you love?
Last season’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) is a culmination of all that I have learned and accomplished in the past 25 years [the Washington Post called the piece Bowen McCauley’s “strongest work to date”]. I dug deep to come up with my own original take on this piece. I love the process of creation and then seeing a piece really come together in live performance.
Your website features a quote by you: “I believe that dance is for everyone, regardless of age or ability.” Was it this belief that led you to establish Dance for Parkinson’s Disease, a program that provides free weekly classes for people with Parkinson’s? How did this come about?
Being a person with a heart disability has definitely made me more sensitive to people battling health issues. Over the years Bowen McCauley Dance’s community engagement with individuals of all ages and abilities confirms that moving to music brings joy and benefit to those who participate. At the invitation of the Mark Morris Dance Group and Parkinson Foundation of the National Capital Area, I received training and certification in March 2008 to teach Dance for PD. When participating in the dance program, people with the disease report a decrease in physical symptoms and improved psychological and emotional benefits. Besides the health benefits, dance takes the mind and spirit away from the thoughts of disease, disability, and social isolation. One participant taking the class simply stated, “I lose my symptoms when I’m there.”
Your choreography is unique for mixing rock with ballet, incorporating music as varied as Radiohead, Elvis Costello, the Foo Fighters, and Joan Jett. What’s on your personal playlist these days?
Locally, I like Thievery Corporation and Mortimer’s Prime. Nationally, my latest picks are Jason and the Scorchers, Evening Rig, Delta Rae, and Soul Asylum.
What advice do you have for young women working to become established in the arts?
Make sure you get the very best training that you can, and surround yourself with mentors and other people who can help you get established. Persevere in the face of setbacks and criticism. The arts are not a lucrative business, so find a way to support your dreams. There is still a glass ceiling for women in the arts as well as in other fields. If you can’t make your passion your vocation, make it your avocation.
Perhaps the most important question is, What projects of yours can we look forward to in 2013?
I’ve brought together incredible artistic partners for our concerts at the Kennedy Center April 5–6 at 7:30 p.m. The concert will not only pay tribute to Stravinsky’s musical masterpiece Le Sacre du Printemps but [will] also offer two world-premiere works, including a duet in which I will be performing, [with all music] performed live by world-class musicians.
Renee Davidson was AAUW’s media relations intern. She now works for the League of Women Voters.