Brigid Baker practices a holistic approach to contemporary dance in Miami
Brigid Baker, Director of 6th Street Dance Studio and progressive contemporary dance company WholeProject in Miami’s Little Havana, has been a dancer, a choreographer, a teacher, an installation artist, a puppeteer, a singer and musician, and an actor at various points throughout her long and accomplished career.
She holds a BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase and has trained under legendary teachers, dancers, and choreographers including Pina Bausch, Maggie Black, David Howard, Lawrence Rhodes, Finis Jhung, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Mel Wong, whose company she was a member of for nine years. She has an extensive background in ballet, modern dance, and choreography and also studied Horst-based choreography intensively under Kazuko Hirabayashi.
“I’ve been surrounded by all these spectacular people for no good reason, really,” she says humbly.
Additionally, she has studied voice, piano, and oboe; has collaborated with and produced work for Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the Guggenheim Museum, the Neuberger Museum of Art, Columbia University’s MFA Directing program, Bread and Puppet Theater, Malandain Ballet Biarritz; and has taught and presented at a number of schools, studios, and dance festivals in New York, Miami, and all over the world.
She has done all of this while also forming her own nonprofit dance studio, choreographing and directing her own dance company, developing her own technical movement practice – Lightbody, blending quantum physics, body movement, and spiritual mysteries – and launching free programs for youth, all while piling up awards, accolades, and recognition for her work (as a multi-time Knight Arts Challenge grantee, a Miami Choreographic Fellowship winner, a multi-time Atlantic Foundation Philanthropies grantee, and a previous TEDxMiami speaker, among other things).
Impressed yet? You should be, especially since Baker isn’t really one to brag about any of this, simply brushing off her many accomplishments with, “Oh, I’ve done so much…”
She does, however, speak at length about her personal history as a young adult during the AIDS epidemic in New York and how it has driven her and inspired her throughout her career with a clarity and sense of immediacy that indicates these thoughts and memories are never very far from her.
“I was part of the downtown artist scene in New York. People like Basquiat, those people were my friends. AIDS and Reagan took everything from me and my group,” she says. “Everything around me fell. There was the loss of the audience, but whole schools of art and dance were also lost. New York changed greatly. Everyone who remained went into a state of shock and did a lot of different kinds of things.”
For Baker, that meant retreating to the mountains in upstate New York to study different kinds of healing work. “A gigantic spiritual life began to flood my body and thought I needed to attend to this,” she says. “I started studying all kinds of alternative healing work.”
That study manifests in her current work in Lightbody, the practice she developed and teaches that incorporates holistic and quantum perspectives influenced by her study of healing practices like Juliu Horvath Gyrokenisis, Network Spinal Analysis, breath work, Qigong, and CranioSacral therapies. She teaches contemporary ballet classes based in Lightbody principles and also holds two-hour Lightbody classes with her company dancers before each performance.
Baker describes Lightbody practice as “a rebuilding of nervous system…a transcendent element in art.” It is a way to stay “in the realm of inspiration,” a “multidimensional” approach to movement drawing on breath, energy, and aspects of universal connectedness that results in greater movement and artistic capabilities in which accuracy replaces effort and force.
Her life’s work has also been deeply inspired by her family. “I had a very artistic family, involved in theatre and music, and they were also very active community activists. That informs everything that I do and everything I do at 6th Street deals with aspects of living a life. My father ran for public office every year of my life. My mother taught me everything she knew about culture. That is the basis of everything. We had a very poor existence, but it was also very rich with opportunities.”
Her passion for community involvement and activism developed during her childhood, and it has been a cornerstone of her work in Miami. “Who I am is very much a part of what I came out of: my family, and being in New York at the right time with right people.”
Still reeling from the “tear in [her] psyche” caused by the loss of her community in New York during the AIDS crisis, she visited a friend in Miami. She says got off the plane and immediately said, “Oh shit, I’m moving here.”
“New York was an easier city for me to work in, even though everything I knew had disappeared,” says the native New Yorker. “But Miami felt very different. I never saw something that inspired me in such a way – the light, the landscape, the people. I just wanted a space to do my thing. Miami called; I needed space and time to what I wanted to give it a fighting chance, and I could get that here. It’s really a community here. I went to New York City for community, lost that community, and had been looking for community ever since.”
She found it in Miami, and in 2004 she formed 6th Street Dance Studio and WholeProject, her contemporary classical dance company that uses movement principals based on Lightbody. WholeProject is a collaborative company in which the dancers assemble, disassemble, and reassemble the built environment during the performances, incorporating environmental installations with dance, music, and film, and using all hand-made, repurposed, lo-fi fabrications in combination with high-tech light and sound productions.
Baker also oversees HomeGrown, a residency program for young professional dancers and musicians that fosters the organic growth of collaborative creation through free styling and consistent interactions; and TruSchool, a “fundamentals of hip hop” program designed for youth based on the original Universal Zulu Nation’s tenets of peace, love, and unity. Both of these programs are previous Knight Arts Challenge winners.
Most recently, Baker presented Magic City vs. Motor City: Internet2 Freestyle, her latest Knight Arts Challenge grant that supported the connection of two cities – Miami and Detroit – and their disparate urban dance and music cultures. She collaborated with Haleem “Stringz” Rasul and brought together organizations in both Miami and Detroit to create a cross-city freestyle collaboration of urban youth dancers in real time, connected through Baker’s technological portal at the New World Center in Miami Beach.
6th Street Studio also offers TruScholarship Ballet classes for beginners ages 6-10. And all of these youth programs are free.
“All of our young people’s programs are free because, just because,” Baker says firmly. “We are green. We have no waste. We have no debt. By 2005 I had cleared all our debt. We’re supported through direct giving and special grants that help us do our programming as it is instead of trying to steer the program. Most of what we do is trying to build a new arts economy.”