Monica Bill Barnes (right) with Elisa Clark and an audience member in Happy Hour. Brennan Spark, Courtesy Barnes

What Do Monica Bill Barnes and Her Junior-High Self Have in Common?

My dad likes to remind me that I was intolerable in junior high. Whenever I hear him talk about his daughter, the dancer, he finds a way to tell this story: "We always knew Peanut"—that's me—"was going to be a dancer. When she was in seventh grade, she would come home from school and just be in a mood. She would go into her room, lock the door and dance. An hour later, she would come out, sweating and happy again."


Oftentimes memory oversimplifies events, but I actually believe this memory is completely accurate. Dancing makes me happy. But it's a complicated happiness. Dance allows me to take on roles and experiences that aren't mine alone. Right now, I'm working on a dance set at a wedding, relatives of all ages dancing to songs they'd never choose and the cover band leading the charge with self-seriousness. The context is both ridiculous and relatable, like capturing a movement that reminds you of your favorite uncle.

I feel truly lucky to have invented this job for myself where I can jog around The Metropolitan Museum of Art in a sequin dress, where I put on a business suit and pretend to be an insecure man at an office party, where I can burst onstage at a fancy gala event in a worn wool turtleneck and pretend to engage in a boxing match with the entire audience. It's a constant surprise to me that this is how I get to spend my days.

While sheltering in my wonderful but tiny New York City apartment with my husband this year, a good friend gave me the keys to her empty office. There is an open lobby space, and five times a week, between the printer and the receptionist desk, I'd dance. I don't believe I am any different than my junior high self.

As I continue to continue, I take great refuge and strength in my unshakable love of dance. Whether I am dancing on a big stage or in a small lobby, I'm simply a happier person because of this art form and its place in my life.

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Dance Magazine caught up with five recent grads to see where they've landed and how USC Kaufman and its career services department prepared them for their future in the dance industry.

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July 2021