As PHILADANCO! prepares for their upcoming performance at the Kimmel Center, Kim Bears-Bailey looks back on her illustrious career with the company. Bears-Bailey joined the company in 1981 and rose through the ranks to her current position as Artistic Director. She shares with Phindie the creation of PHILADANCO! RE and highlights of the past 41 years.
Debra Danese: Tell us about your history with PHILADANCO! and some of the highlights so far.
Kim Bears-Bailey: I was a second semester freshman at Philadelphia College of Performing Arts, now the University of the Arts, when I auditioned for PHILADANCO! That was on January 11th, 1981. My rehearsal number was 14, and that day I was selected to join the ranks of PHILADANCO! My world was never the same from that day forward.
The main highlight of my career are the blessings I receive every day when I walk into PHILADANCO! and get to do what I love. I’ve been mentored and supported by the incomparable and selfless Ms. Joan Myers Brown for the past 41 years. Another highpoint was being appointed Assistant Artistic Director in 1989, which planted the seed for my current position as Artistic Director.
Other highlights include the 20 years I performed with PHILADANCO! and meeting the incredible artists I had the pleasure to share the studio and stage with. I’ll never forget those wonderful moments spent working with amazing master teachers and choreographers, who affected my soul and spirit as a dancer, and laid the foundation for how I teach today.
In addition, I was the first dancer to perform two historic solos by the modern dance pioneer choreographer Pearl Primus. I have also won a Bessie Award, which is the equivalent of a play winning a Tony Award. This remains one of the highlights of my career as few dancers obtain this achievement.
It’s also been thrilling to see PHILADANCO! be recognized as a leader in the dance field. I felt this most deeply when Ms. Brown received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.
DD: What aspect of your role do you find most rewarding?
KBB: The most rewarding aspect of my career is the knowledge that I am carrying on the legacy of PHILADANCO! and maintaining the works of genius choreographer Gene Hill Sagan.
DD: What was the selection process in choosing the pieces for PHILADANCO! RE?
KBB: Two years ago, Ms. Brown and I spoke about the idea of bringing back choreographers who have had a long history with PHILADANCO! and who have made an indelible impact on the company. We recognized that these works were treasures and wanted to create an opportunity for our current company members to experience these works and reintroduce them to old and new audiences. The hardest part was choosing from the long list of works we wanted to show. The ones we picked show some of the most unique choreography and showcase the wide breadth of styles that PHILADANCO! is known for.
DD: You recently completed a residency at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. What was that experience like?
KBB: I was invited by Dr. Betsy Fisher, Associate Chair and Professor of Dance, to teach and restage a work by Dr. Primus called ‘Strange Fruit’ for a few selected dance majors. I was welcomed with open arms, and Dr. Fisher and I connected instantly. It was such an incredible experience to observe these young artists embracing the experience, the demand, and the vulnerability of the work where a woman reacts after witnessing a lynching. The experience really made me feel as though I have a new home at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.
DD: What’s the best advice you would give to aspiring dance professionals?
KBB: Take care of your vessel. Arm yourself with good training and good teachers. Know your craft. Read, see, educate. Find a mentor. Most importantly, always remember why you chose DANCE. Do the work and “Never let anyone steal your JOY!”
For more information on PHILADANCO! RE, visit https://www.kimmelculturalcampus.org