Volunteer Profile: Terry Dean Bartlett
(Terry Dean Bartlett performing at the 2005 Fire Island Dance Festival. Photo Credit: Rosalie O’Connor)
DANCER RESPONDING WITH ACTION
By Chris Giarmo
On a 19-degree Sunday in mid-February, most of Brooklyn’s hipsters are layered in hoodies and thrift-store pea coats, but not Terry Dean Bartlett, who arrives at Williamsburg’s Roebling Tea House wearing sunglasses and riding a skateboard.
Bartlett is an action hero—and not just because he skateboards in winter. The 34-year-old, long-time STREB dance company member and associate artistic director performs great feats—both onstage and off—that would make any action-fan applaud. Having performed in DRA events like The Remember Project, Fire Island Dance Festival, and Dance from the Heart, as well as single-handedly organizing fundraising efforts with STREB and as part of his critically-acclaimed dance showcase DANCEOFF!, Bartlett is one of DRA’s greatest assets and dearest friends.
Born and raised in Cody, Wyoming (home of legendary “Buffalo Bill Cody”), Bartlett never thought he would end up where he has. He was a self-proclaimed “shoe-gazing goth kid”—quiet, reserved, his only creative outlets being the nearby Missoula Children’s Theater and a break dancing crew in his hometown. Terry Dean wasn’t made for “one-horse town” life, and after high school he enrolled in the University of Montana Missoula, plugging away at his dream of becoming an actor. However, after being snubbed for countless parts, including his dream role of the young and disturbed Alan Strang in Peter Schaffer’s Equus, Bartlett did what any ex-break-dancin’ fool would do; he transferred to the dance department.
Apart from a 6th grade jazz class, Bartlett hadn’t any formal dance training. But something clicked and he took to dance like a bird to flight. Bartlett came to New York in 1996 and soon after auditioned for STREB on a friend’s suggestion, having never seen the company’s work. Founded by Elizabeth Streb in 1979, the company focuses on action-packed, gratuitously athletic, gravity-defying work that looks more like a circus show than a dance piece. Terry Dean was smitten: “Run into walls and flip around? This is crazy, I love it!” Bartlett eventually became associate artistic director, not only because of his physical virtuosity, but his aggressive “can do” attitude that constantly advances the fight against gravity (in STREB SLAM Shows Bartlett dodges in-and-out of a human-sized metal hamster wheel and falls face-down from a 30-foot-high scaffolding onto a 12” foam mat, among various other daredevil maneuvers).
As well as battling gravity, Bartlett is also a curatorial warrior. Being a dancer in New York means seeing a lot of dance, and a lot of dance in New York can sometimes be a bit morose. So in 1999, Bartlett, along with STREB member, Lisa Leanne Dalton, decided to create a way for audience members to actually “have fun at a dance concert,” he says. Alas, Terry Dean and Lisa Leanne Put on a DANCESHOW was born. Initially starting with just friends, the dance showcase became a place to show new work, to a young, attentive audience. With short time limits and an irreverent, experimental vibe, DANCESHOW became known as a guaranteed good time. The showcase, held bimonthly at Galapagos in Williamsburg, featured the works by some of NY’s brightest choreographic stars like Robert Battle, Mark Dendy, Leigh Garret, David Neumann, Nicholas Leichter, Brian Brooks and Miguel Gutierrez—and was noted as “Ones to Watch” in both The New York Times and Dance Magazine.
But all good things must either come to an end and/or evolve, and when Lisa Leanne moved to Texas after becoming a national bareback bronco riding champion (seriously), DANCESHOW did the latter. In 2003, longtime DANCESHOW performer and friend Katie Workum swooped in to save the day, and together Bartlett and Workum re-launched the showcase under the new moniker, DANCEOFF!, at Joe’s Pub. The series has relocated several times before landing at its permanent home, the seminal East Village performance hub, PS 122, where audiences are served a smorgasbord of fresh, lively dance in tasty 7-minute bites.
Finding Time to Fundraise
It is a wonder that with his countless commitments Bartlett still finds time to volunteer for DRA. His introduction to the organization was typical—he witnessed an audience appeal for DRA at a dance concert. But instead of simply dropping a few bucks into a bucket, going home and forgetting about it, he decided to take action (he is an action hero after all). Bartlett and Dalton began doing audience appeals at the next DANCESHOW, which carried on with Katie Workum and DANCEOFF!, as well as with STREB’s SLAM Shows in Brooklyn.
Why do it? “Because we can and it’s easy,” he says. Bartlett single-handedly organizes appeals, speeches and collections and brings the money directly to DRA himself. It may be easy for him, but it’s still undeniably admirable. In audience appeals, Bartlett has been responsible for independently raising over $4,000. In addition to fundraising, Bartlett has performed in many DRA events, like the Fire Island Dance Festival. “Fire Island is such a gorgeous venue,” he says, “and to be able to perform with so many other dancers is such an honor.”
He takes advantage of any opportunity to aid DRA, whose cause is dear to his heart. Being of a younger generation, he hasn’t experienced as intense a relationship to the AIDS epidemic as many members of the dance community. “AIDS doesn’t loom in the same way,” Bartlett says. However, when STREB lost a member of its company to AIDS, Bartlett felt first hand the impact of this global health crisis. “It brought it all closer to home.”
Bartlett and STREB are discussing appearances at future DRA events and fundraising for the organization is constantly on his mind. His fusion of creative energy and practical know-how will keep this multitalented performer an indispensable resource for DRA. He won’t be leaving STREB any time soon, either. “Why should I? I get to fly for a living.”
(Photo Credit: Aaron Henderson)