Interview: Courtney Barth
Edited by: 
Alicia Samson

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you first got involved in dancing and maybe how your background, or who you are kind of influenced that or vice versa?

I actually started as a typical studio kid. I did it mostly for the community and for my friends. I did competition dance throughout middle school and high school. And when I got to high school, I ended up attending a performing arts school so I got to learn classical, modern, and composition. It started opening me up to the concert world. I never really enjoyed the culture of competition dance, so it was nice to finally find a community within dance that I could engage with. And I realized there was more than just this thing that didn't feel like it was my mold. So, I went to the performing arts high school and ended up applying to SUNY Purchase Marymount and other schools to attend for conservatory work. I went to Purchase for four years, and it changed all of my expectations and feelings about what I thought dance was. It was really great, it challenged a lot of my views. I grew up very conservative and I never really felt attached to any of those ideas, so to have them challenged made me realize that those were not my own personal views. It was really groundbreaking for me and my own personal identity. There, I met Doug, and I just started a personal relationship with him. Never in a million years did I think he would have hired me. So I was thinking, because he would never hire me, I would become his friend and allow him to be a mentor, because he is amazing. And from that, I got an apprenticeship. Yeah, I never thought that I'd be doing the work that I am, but I'm grateful. Doug's work specifically engages with the community and it's about community.

Q: What dance has taught you?

So, I think I go back and forth on this. I feel like dance has taught me that maybe you should be a little bit more compassionate towards other people. I think, in dance, we're really fortunate to have the amount of like, touch. We have this built in community no matter where we are. And we're lucky in that way, in relationship to like, some of my family members. They're just kind of alone in the world, almost. I feel like dance has taught me that no matter where I go, I have these people built in. Even if I don't dance anymore, or I move on to something else, I know that the people I'm meeting now will always be there. Yeah, I think we really like to depend on one another and I think that's something that the world can take from dance and the arts. We can collaborate, we can learn together, we can learn from other people. All of the basics that you learn in a modern class or contemporary class, we're able to watch each other and learn from each other. Dance teaches me something new every day. And sometimes I hate it but I think that's similar for everybody. It's a love hate relationship, mostly love.

Q: What have been some challenges in either your pre professional or professional dance career?  

A big challenge I've been thinking about lately is the performance quality online, which is interesting in this current time because it's kind of all we have. I think nothing beats an in person performance, or meeting, or class. The energy in a room can really impact the way we feel. I've always had a difficult relationship with Instagram and Facebook because of how fake it can feel. You can be whoever you want to be, which is really exciting. But it's like a weird block for me. I feel more closed off when it becomes just about what you do on the internet. Or about gaining followers or getting likes, things that I don't care about in the dance field. But it has this other side to it, it can be very valuable in times like these. People are able to take Gaga classes who have never been able to take Gaga, or Cunningham. It's opening up this accessible platform. But how can we continue that after this is done, I guess. It's nice now because I feel like we're all reaching out to one another, but how can this be something we continue? Versus something that feels like we're doing it only because we have to. Can we continue this afterwards without leaving anyone behind?

Q: Can you talk a little bit more on how you think dance can be a platform for social justice issues?

I mean, dance feels like such a political act. And after this, it's going to feel even more like that. I think about a lot of queer identifying companies being able to see two men together, two women together, and being intimate on stage. I think about what that can do for a viewer, in the same way movies and films can make the viewers feel. Watching dance can be very healing and unifying. And I think it is important to see encouraging people inspiring others. It can be very inspiring for a young person to see representation in the community that they're in. And I guess at this time, a lot of dance has been performed by white people. I'm a white person, I see that and I know that I have people I can identify with. So, how can people like me step down and let other people's voices be heard? And I think in doing that, we can kind of show the world that this is the time that other people stepped down so other people could be heard. Not just in our community but other communities as well.

Q: Can you talk a little bit how you've been affected as a performing artist by the COVID-19 pandemic?

I had, like many people, events that were canceled, things that I've been looking forward to for over a year or whatever. And it's a sad, but very minor, loss in comparison to what's going on. And I, fortunately, am able to apply for unemployment. I've been able to do that when we had breaks from work in the past. So, I was already in the system. I was fortunate that I did not have to struggle with things like calling and being on the phone for hours. I always felt guilty about applying for unemployment when we're off for like six to seven weeks but I wouldn’t be getting any other work. I don't really have the time to be full time anywhere else. So, I always felt bad for that hundred dollars I got. But in times like these, I feel so grateful because all of this income that I had planned with performances, is helping me being taken care of. And I think Doug is also relieved because he knows we're taken care of as well. So, I have that, which I know not everybody can have.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about what process you were in when New York started to shut down what process you were in with the company? And what that looked like for you and kind of your initial reactions?

What's crazy is that all of it kind of started happening on my birthday, which was March 10, and the company had been in residency at Purchase College. We were going back and forth there in February, and Doug was working on us separately with the students. He was creating a 20 minute piece with both of us together, dancing with one another. And we were kind of just finishing it that week of March 10, and we were looking forward to performing it. A few weeks later we were at the Performing Arts Center. This was the school I graduated from, and it has been four years since I graduated. It felt like a nice homecoming that I was looking forward to. It just felt super full circle for me to be there again. And to work with these students that are just so special. And I went to a meeting the week before. It was a faculty meeting because we're on faculty there as well. And we were wondering how we could take everything online and limit the amount of people in the studio. At that point I figured that everything would be canceled, like everything's going to shut down. I'm pessimistic, but I'm also trying to be realistic, I guess. Um, and I'm also afraid of illness that I was wondering if this was going to kill me. I was freaking out. But on my birthday we had a final run in the studio, and I just kind of knew, I was like, “This is the last time that we're going to do this dance.” Um, and the next day they told us that we couldn’t come back. They said that at the end of the week we might be able to come back and have a mini performance with no audience in the center of the Performing Arts Center. But that never happened. And that was the last time we did the dance. So it was sad because all these things that we'd been building up to, were just being taken apart. But for the safety of our community, which is much more important than putting on a performance. Absolutely. And as far as what life looks like for me now? Um, we don't have company class, we do weekly meetings just to kind of check in and hang out and see each other. And we're looking to apply to grants. I'm not doing this because I'm not the grant writer but our grant writers are working really hard for us. I mean, there's millions of people applying for this so we'll see. But we're hoping maybe in the future to do some sort of online program for like a week or two, which I think will be interesting. I feel like they feel so opposite of like, who we are. We really want to interact with you in real time, in real life. So this would definitely be a learning opportunity for us. My weeks are very empty. I have those meetings maybe once a week, and that's about it for us right now.

Q:  After the pandemic is over, what would you like to see change in the dance world?

Oh my gosh, there's so much. I feel like I want more protection for our community. It's crazy to see how this can just kind of trample all of these organizations we have. So, how can we protect organizations that currently exist? And then, how do we lift up new things as well? Yeah, again, how do we engage people whose voices have not been heard? And how can we do it in a way that doesn't feel forced? It just feels like we can be doing more, and maybe there's a different way to lift those unheard voices up. And I feel like, as a white person, I might not be the best person to come up with that solution. I want to support those voices and be an ally in that way. And I would like accessibility to dance to be like less of a less of a privilege. I was very lucky. My parents were able to afford classes, and then I was very lucky to go to a performing arts school that was free. And then, I was very lucky to go to a state school which was not as expensive as the private schools that I looked at. So, how can we balance the scales a little bit? Even in the education of dance, how do we make more scholarships available? How do we

engage with the community in a better way? How do we actually listen to other people and then actually take action to make their ideas happen? I think a lot of the time these questions are on the back burner because there are other fires that need to be put out. Such as, how do we keep our organizations afloat? I think we need to find security there, and then help bring new things as well.

Q: Have you, or just off the top of your head right now, thought about what performance could look like in the future? Because realistically, we're not going to be able to gather in large spaces and what we were doing before really wasn't sustainable so I'm just wondering if you have any ideas or how you think performance may change for the better, or the worse?

It's hard because I feel like we're in a society where wealthy people go to see ballets but in general our society is not great about supporting dancers in general. And the general public is not super interested, unless it's like your aunt or uncle or a family member who's showing up. So, I guess, something that was an issue before is, how do we engage the greater community outside of our own? Outside of Doug Verone and Dancers, I dance for a second company called Best dance. It's a dance theatre company, with Hannah Garner, she's a choreographer. She's an absolute genius. And she hates when I say that, so she's gonna hate that I said that. But she's done an amazing job at getting people interested in, and less intimidated by what dance is because it's really theatrical and it makes you feel like you're not watching dance. It’s like you're watching like a scene happen and then all of a sudden we're singing. I think it breaks the expectation of what people think dance is. And it makes me go back to thinking about dance, education, and then, how can we inform the general public about what dance is? And how can we remove the intimidation that comes with not always understanding dance? We should allow the audience to access how it makes them feel and make it easy to talk about. As for the way that it will change after this, I feel like I don't know if I have an answer. I feel so sad about even where we were when we started. I want to see live shows, I don't want to just keep seeing performances on the internet. But I think that is where we start. By having more showings of things online and then maybe family members see it, they share it, and more people see it that way. Then, maybe people start understanding dance a little bit more on this platform in order for us to grow and continue, outside of it. And, yeah, that's the one I feel really stumped on, so I'm eager to see what other people are feeling and thinking.

Transcription courtesy of