We Tried It: The Museum Workout With Monica Bill Barnes
I was doing jumping jacks in front of a sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this morning when a security guard's face caught my eye. He was grinning from cheek to cheek. And his smile reminded me, Oh right, this isn't normal.
The Museum Workout. Photo by Paula Lobo, courtesy Met Museum.
For the next four weeks, Barnes and her longtime performing partner Anna Bass will lead small groups of visitors on a 45-minute, two-mile journey through the museum in the hours before it opens to the public. A score of disco and Motown hits plays out of a speaker strapped to the back of Barnes' creative producing director, Robert Saenz de Viteri. Barnes and Bass wear their signature sequined dresses and sneakers; the rest of us wear our finest athleisure outfits.
Photo by Paula Lobo, courtesy Met Museum
The two dancers greeted us on the grand steps just off The Great Hall. After a short introduction (and, of course, a warning not to touch the art), de Viteri hit play, and the sounds of the Bee Gees filled the atrium.
We followed Bass and Barnes as they jogged, marched and power walked through galleries until reaching, for example, John Singer Sargent's "Portrait of Madame X," which we'd face for a minute while doing something like squats. There was no commentary or time to read any explanation about the works. But it felt oddly reverential, like we were doing some ritual movement to honor the art gods.
No, it wasn't exactly bootcamp. But my calves did feel the burn, and my overpriced moisture-wicking garb came in handy as I quickly started sweating. There were no movements that all ages in the group couldn't handle, though. We were basically doing a better-choreographed version of your mom's low-impact aerobics class. While surrounded by fine art.
But why were we working up a sweat in a museum, of all places?
Clips of recorded conversations with illustrator Maira Kalman, who curated the route and chose each piece we visited, offered some insight. She explained that when we work out in nature, rather than trying to understand everything we see, we just observe. The implication was that there might be a benefit in taking that same approach to art. She also spoke about how much she personally hated having to talk to people at museums, how you were expected to comment on the work—something we didn't have to do while jogging.
Paula Lobo, courtesy Met Museum
"The Vine," via metmuseum.org
The workout ended with us all lying down on the floor of the American Wing. (Meanwhile, outside the large windows, cyclists and runners were doing their workouts in Central Park.) Looking up from the floor, I saw Harriet Whitney Frishmuth's "The Vine." And for the first time, I noticed just how beautiful it was: The line of her cambré arches back gloriously; her outstretched fingers would even make Balanchine proud. I don't know anything about this work or the artist's intention, but I couldn't help getting swept up in its dancer-like beauty.
Who knows if I would have noticed the same thing had I not just been following along with two dancers for the past 45 minutes. But I realized that I loved being in a museum without having to stand around so much, the way you usually do. Being able to really move through it felt, if not exactly natural, at least more comfortable.
Not that I plan on doing squats in front of my favorite paintings during my next visit. But I might be tempted to walk around a bit more. And maybe sneak in just a couple jumping jacks before the security guards catch me.
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT