News & Politics

What Made Me: Lucy Bowen McCauley

The founder of Arlington’s Bowen McCauley Dance on taking risks and seeing the possibilities in disabilities.

Photograph by Tim Coburn.

The realization: My mom enrolled me in ballet when I was seven because I was a tomboy. By 14, dance was my passion. I was never the most gifted dancer. I got into the Joffrey Ballet’s second string, in New York, and performed on Broadway and with Nureyev, but I knew I was never going to get into the main company.

The setback: I drifted a bit into contemporary dance and acting. I was in a low-budget French film when my left foot got run over by a car. I could no longer go en pointe, though I did go back to dance.

The move: When I burned out on New York, I sublet my apartment, thinking I’d be back. But my career flourished here. I danced with DC Contemporary Dance Theatre and Daniel West. In 1989, Mary Day at the Washington Ballet, where I was teaching, asked me to create three pieces. I’d never choreographed before. I saw there was a way to stay in dance when I couldn’t dance anymore. I choreograph to rock, to classical, to atonal music. I take risks. Otherwise it’s the same cookie-cutter thing over and over.

The diagnosis: When I was 40, I was diagnosed with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy—my heart pumps at about half. I didn’t get depressed; I got invested in helping others. We have a huge, free program—Dance for Parkinson’s Disease—and another one for disabled kids. On the purest level, you share the joy of dance.

This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Top Doctors, and Great Small Towns. She lives in DC.