Lucy Bowen McCauley: One Day At A Time

For nearly 25 years, Bowen McCauley Dance (BMDC) has been a fixture of the Washington, D.C. regional dance scene. Based in Arlington, Va., the company founded by Lucy Bowen McCauley has been performing locally, nationally, and internationally since 1996. I first knew Lucy as faculty at Maryland Youth Ballet where I was a student. More than a decade later I now know her as my artistic director. I was particularly excited for this season’s March 29 and 30 production at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, which is now tentatively postponed until June 2020. Like dance companies around the world, BMDC has taken a serious hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic, losing rehearsal time, performances, and teaching income. BMDC Executive Director Helen Chamberlin and Lucy joined spoke with me late last month.

How are you?

Lucy Bowen McCauley: How am I? This week has been stressful. I feel less creative. I’m teaching my Dance for Parkinson’s class online. I have been getting feedback that my last class was extra creative and that made me feel good. I miss creativity, I miss the dancers terribly, and I miss being in the studio. We all miss our routines. What we do is so physical and group oriented that the stay-at-home order has a special sting. With keeping the company running, time is not super available. We applied for a PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] grant on the first day it was possible. The board has been very active, the finance committee is meeting weekly, and extra fundraising has been going well. The company had reserves to help us through, so there are positives. And, last but not least, I don’t miss being in the car and in traffic all the time [laughter].

Helen Chamberlin: Thanks for asking. I’ve been taking it day by day. We have now lost one-third of our revenue from performance cancellations, Dance for PD cancellations, and potential community-engagement events in schools. We really started upping our virtual presence with the online Dance for PD program, which is really becoming a bright spot for the people who do it.

How has the company pivoted after the loss of the spring season?   

L.B.M.: The loss of the Kennedy Center shows is a budget-destroying event, as well as morale- and income-destroying for the artists. We lost a performance at the Car-Free Earth Day festival in NYC, and a commission with the National Chamber Ensemble. And, as you know, we lost the classes that you were teaching through the Kennedy Center as well as other educational community-engagement programs. This may not be recoverable within our season, which ends in the end of June, because not much work will get done before then.

We followed the CARES Act and submitted on the first day that applications were being accepted. That’s specifically for salary and rent. Our board chairs sent out an upbeat email [to company supporters and ticket holders] asking for help and that brought in several thousand dollars without being heavy handed. We’re trying to get our dancers some money and until we can all get back in the studio.

H.C.: We tracked the CARES act, but as the act was going through Congress it was changing, so we were trying to get good information, but recognized that the information [was] changing. The challenge was our bank — BBT — was still having conference calls the morning of April 3 when we were supposed to submit, because the banks were trying get clients registered on April 3, but we weren’t given the application until Monday [April 5] to apply. That weekend was a little tough. You knew banks were processing bigger clients and you knew money was going out the door, so was there going to be enough for us?

What are you doing to stay motivated?

L.B.M.: I’m very motivated. I don’t have to race out the door in the morning, which I like. I usually get up and do a workout because that energizes me and if I don’t do it in the morning, I don’t do it at all. This company is very dear to me and I want us to have our 25th season. I think the show we’re sitting on is an absolutely beautiful show that I believe in. I believe in our Dance for PD program and I believe in what we do in the schools. So motivation isn’t a problem.

People ask me, “Why don’t you just choreograph a new dance while you’re at home?” I listen to music and I’m reading more and feeding my soul, which always ends up feeding my choreography, but I’m not writing the “great American novel” in dance right now. I’m trying to keep the company afloat, keep myself in shape, and take care of the dancers. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of things to do. My motivation is great. The creativity is maybe not A level right now. But it will come back.

Often art becomes tied to crisis as a way of processing cultural trauma. Has quarantine inspired you to think about your work differently?

L.B.M.: I can’t tell you what it will be, because we’re all going to be changed, we’re all going to be different. I have never been much of a choreographer for what I call ‘message pieces.’ I don’t feel like I’m dying to do a coronavirus piece. I know some people will. I have seen choreographers do pieces in their apartments in like a six-foot square, and I thought it was interesting, the claustrophobia of it all, but I didn’t think I needed to add to the mix. Sometimes it looks like something that should stay in the privacy of one’s own home anyway. I’m not the best with the message [pieces], but it will definitely influence my art. If anything, I want to do something where we all start in a cluster like an amoeba and we move together touching each other instead of using all this space. And the dancers will all be a little different. We may be rehearsing with masks on when we finally get to return.

We bring the joy of dance to people. Even if a piece isn’t always happy, the joy of watching bodies in motion, in sync with some incredible music and some interesting ideas, that joy is going to come back. I don’t know how it will be exactly; I don’t have that crystal ball. I’m trying to take each thing one day at a time.

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This article originally appeared on DC Dance Journalism Project. The piece was written by Justin Metcalf-Burton, BMDC Dancer and Teaching Artist, as part of his participation in the Journalism Project which provides local DC Metro area artists with the opportunity to learn how to think and write critically of the performing arts genre.