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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Something magical happens when Jovani Furlan smiles at another dancer onstage. Whether it's a warm acknowledgment between sections of Jerome Robbins' Dances at a Gathering or an infectious grin delivered in the midst of a puzzle box of a sequence in Justin Peck's Everywhere We Go, whoever is on the receiving end brightens.

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