The Washington Post

First Person: Lucy Bowen McCauley, artistic director, Bowen McCauley Dance


(D.A. Peterson/For The Washington Post)

I don’t think I was a particularly talented kid. My mom made me go to ballet with three of my friends. I was always super-athletic and actually kind of coordinated, so I can see why she threw me in, but I didn’t like the pink tights. I also didn’t like someone telling me what to do.

I didn’t have the perfect physique. I’m not long and I don’t have high arches. The teachers would always comment about that.
But I had good balance en pointe because I didn’t have floppy feet. They were strong. There were people in my classes that were better than I, but I had the passion, determination and love of it, which also gets you fairly far.

It takes a long time to develop artistry. First the technique has to be right. Like how to pronounce the language. And then the choreographer wants you to be on a certain count, in a certain place, doing a certain thing. And then you bring your own artistry to it. The larger ballet companies, where there’s 20 girls in a row doing “Swan Lake” — they’re not looking for a lot of artistry. That’s why I wasn’t right for the large companies, to stand in that line.
I was never Juliet, either. I was more of what I would call a “character dancer.”
I had to be allowed to add something.

I want my dancers to be able to express themselves. They’re this great team together, but they are also allowed to be individuals. And they’re not cookie cutters; they’re tall and small, black and white — but I hold them to a high standard of technique. I call them thoroughbreds. You’ve got 10 different beautiful horses that will run the race differently. You choreograph for them differently. Sometimes to bring out what they’re really good at, sometimes to challenge them a little bit in their weak spots.

We recently did a sort of pseudo-flash mob down in Rosslyn to the song “Mamma Mia.” It was free to the public. We did a whole teaching of the dance before. It was open to all ages and went over well. So I’m walking my dog that same day, and I hear, “Hey, ‘Mamma Mia’ Flash Mob Woman!” I turned, and it’s a young man and his wife and two young children. They had done the flash mob. They introduced themselves, and I said, “Do you live around here?” And they pointed to the affordable housing. The little girl wanted to shake my hand, and I said, “Well, show me some of the dance.” And she started doing it. I got tears in my eyes when this little girl started to do step-touch. She’s 4 years old. I said, “Has she had dance training?” They said, “No.” And I said, “You’ve got to get her into dance.” A lot of people think dance and especially ballet is just for the elite, and it’s not. One of our lines is “Dance is for everyone.”

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