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.

Instead, it was Monica Bill Barnes' latest experiment: The Museum Workout.

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.


Get more Dance Magazine.

Breaking Stereotypes
James Beaudreau, Courtesy Lara

Inside a bustling television studio in Los Angeles, Lindsay Arnold Cusick hears the words "Five minutes to showtime." While dancers and celebrities covered head to toe in sequins whirl around preparing for their live performances on "Dancing with the Stars," Cusick pauses to say a prayer to God and express her gratitude.

"I know that it's not a given, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to do what I love for a living," says Cusick, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For her, prayer is a ritualized expression of her faith that she has maintained since she was a girl in Provo, Utah. Even with her seven-plus years of industry experience, she always takes a moment to steady herself and close her prayer in Christ's name before rushing onto the stage.

Keep reading... Show less

The hotly-debated Michael Jackson biomusical is back on. Not that it was ever officially off, but after its pre-Broadway Chicago run was canceled in February, its future seemed shaky.

Now, the show has secured a Broadway theater, with previews starting July 6 at the Neil Simon Theater.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance History
Jacques d'Amboise leading a National Dance Institute class. Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy DM Archives

In the October 1969 issue of Dance Magazine, we spoke with Jacques d'Amboise, then 20 years into his career with New York City Ballet. Though he became a principal dancer in 1953, the star admitted that it hadn't all been smooth sailing.

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave

These days, social media is an essential tool for dance companies looking to promote their work. Karole Armitage's company, Armitage Gone! Dance, recently posted ads for their upcoming show at New York Live Arts, You Took A Part Of Me, a "mysterious and hypnotic display of erotic entanglement and unresolved attachment" inspired by traditional Japanese Noh drama.

Keep reading... Show less


Get Dance Magazine in your inbox