Spotlight: Dancing on the Edge

A choreographer keeps audiences on their toes.

By: Katherine Volin

“For a lot of people, modern dance is scary,” says Lucy Bowen McCauley, founder and artistic director of Bowen McCauley Dance. “It’s a hard sell.”

The hard sell has never intimidated McCauley. When she was 25, a car ran over her left foot, keeping her out of dance for a year and making it impossible for her ever to perform en pointe. Seven years ago, she was diagnosed with an enlarged heart.

“I don’t look like a heart patient; I just got the bum luck of getting a bad heart,” says McCauley, 47, who lives with her husband in Arlington. She’s had two surgeries and is fine now but may need a heart transplant some day.

A love of music compelled McCauley, who grew up in Indianapolis, to study ballet as a child. Live music is featured in many of her pieces, which blend modern dance with the ballet she learned at the Joffrey Ballet School.

In one piece, Amygdala—named after the part of the brain responsible for emotions like fear—dancers in lizardlike costumes slithered across the Kennedy Center stage, moving to the music.

“It doesn’t have an exact story like The Nutcracker, but you definitely feel the emotion and the movement,” she says.

That’s her goal—for an audience to experience emotion rather than think about plot.

“It’s like looking at a painting,” McCauley says. “We don’t all see the same thing. The advantage of a painting is that we can go back and look at it again. With dance, it’s only alive when it’s being performed. We only have that one night.”

Her troupe performs on March 1 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in DC.