Michael Bardo was preparing to move to London and earn his MFA in Choreography from the University of Roehampton when the pandemic hit. He had taken on many roles throughout his life: environmental activist, molecular biologist, builder, and most recently, modern dance teacher. Then, during the spring of 2021 in Boulder, Colorado, Michael decided to join Training Ground online, our newest program for artists who want a rigorous yet consolidated dance education. During those three months, Michael answered questions that helped him boldly embrace his next move. He shares his experience below:
What drew you to join Training Ground?
Alonzo’s philosophy is what drew me entirely. Certainly the caliber of the training was big, but to be totally honest I felt that life was calling me to be a part of this. There are moments in life when you feel called to be a part of something bigger, that will force you to grow, to merge into expansiveness. That’s what I felt deep in my heart when I signed up…
Did LINES’ approach to ballet differ from what you had experienced before?
I’d say that the faculty are really solid within themselves and what they are teaching. It helps to have wonderful teachers who are grounded, but at the end of the day it’s my own work ethic that’s being honed. At a certain point, training is training. The impetus within is really the driving force. Ballet is something I’ve struggled with for years, but this program has helped to address that.
I’d say what differentiates it is that LINES’ classes develop us from the inside out. I remember when one of the teachers asked us ‘Why are you here? What are your goals? Are your actions in life in alignment with those goals?’
That hit me like a ton of bricks… At that moment, I understood. Nowhere I’ve ever studied had I heard such a poignant question be asked. You either do what the teacher wants, or you don’t get the reward of their attention. There’s nothing superficial about the LINES approach; it necessitates truth, and there’s really no faking that.
What was one of the most impactful pieces of advice you received?
Definitely when our teacher Babatunji Johnson talked about mastery. It was at the end of a long, hard day and I just kept falling, and falling, and falling. At the end, he brought us all in and explained that it doesn’t really matter if you can make the shape on the first try. The ability to do it slowly and deliberately comes from mastering each stage of that shape. It was clear he had done the work, and since he’s literally a master, he was simply sharing his experience. I knew that if I wanted to get to the next level, I needed to earn it; this was a solid recipe to do so.
What was the highlight of the three month program?
This interview? Haha just kidding… Honestly everyday felt new. We have our routine, but everyday I was forced to face my own shortcomings, my own self judgements. Growth slowly started emerging, and I will follow that for the rest of my life. The program provides such a great launching point to spread one’s wings.
Also, collaborating with Kayla Farrish was a major highlight!
Why do you move?
Purpose, fulfillment, inspiration, dedication, complete and total expression of the force I feel within. To me, dance represents the ability to become nothing and everything at the same time.
Does the reason you dance today differ from when you started?
My movement today is greatly different than it used to be. When I first started ballet as a boy, I was definitely there for the girls. Then I realized very quickly, this is the hardest thing in the world! I was really intimidated by the precision and how seriously they took themselves. I felt like a total outsider and felt that my skills were humiliating. I ended up spending my early teens skateboarding with my friends instead.
When I reached adulthood, I wanted to be a real force in this world and to help change things for the better. I spent time as an environmental activist on the Chinese/Tibetan border. I specialized in the molecular systematics of native bees and pollen. I was successful in science because I was an activist, and fought hard for what I believed in. After directly challenging the Chinese Government for a few years, I returned to dance. I studied dance at Hampshire College and was a part of the 5 college dance consortium. I launched myself into advanced contemporary classes, and I felt like I found my superpower. I also had to swallow my pride and get over my inhibitions. It required me to soften where I had learned to harden… Dance allowed me to use all of my gifts, and to cultivate them. I see a great injustice in this world on many levels, and my role as an activist has shifted since dance has led me back to what’s important. Self-care, self-awareness, all of that stuff is vital for me as an emerging choreographer/dancer. I’ve changed a lot in regards to that.
I used to push through pain, emotions, and overall life. Since joining Training Ground, I’ve been able to slow down and actually look at what’s really important.
What growth have you noticed in yourself during the program? Artistically? Personally?
I’d have to say more courage to pursue dance/choreography as a career. I’ve been accepted to the University of Roehampton in London, for my MFA in choreography. This program has helped me acknowledge the depth I feel within. I spent a long time not acknowledging that depth, and I paid a high price for it. It brings me great inspiration to start using what I’ve learned in Training Ground for my MFA. I’m not doing myself (or anyone) any favors if I’m holding back in preparation for London. Alonzo’s TED Talk really inspired me to let go, and to let in.
Have your dreams changed over the past year? What do you hope to see in the world? In yourself?
Over the past year, nearly everyone’s lives have shifted. I hope to see more folks coming together and spreading peace in this world. I have a Palestinian friend who’s an activist/dancer, and he’s going through a lot right now. His whole company is facing immense hardship… I also have a good friend in Myanmar whose family has died because of the military coup. I’ve had friends die from COVID and suicide, and it’s clear that we just need to start really being there for each other. When seeing LINES dancers, I feel as if they are dancing to better all of humanity. More and more I’m seeing the power that comes from this incredible organization at LINES.
Since starting Training Ground, I’ve felt so much more compassion… namely for myself. I’d love to see more of that in the world, but it really begins with me. I challenge myself to bring the embodiment of this into the world today, and every single day.
The other dancers I got to meet and befriend are such awesome folks; we’re all helping each other grow. I’m so grateful I got to be a part of this; it’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.
Who is LINES Ballet’s Training Ground a good fit for?
Anyone who wants to level up. LINES empowers dancers, and if you’re looking to get to the next level then do it. If we’re trying hard to control life and our progress, it blocks possibilities. A lot of what Training Ground does is offer launching points to completely different perspectives.
I know a lot of dance training is more concerned with the external form, rather than the internal experience. LINES somehow embraces both at the same time, which is no small feat. Wisdom is embraced here; it’s embodied.
I can’t recommend Training Ground enough. I wanted to do this program so incredibly bad, so I took the leap. I rearranged my entire life, and now my life has become much clearer, much more impeccable. I know where I am, and where I want to go/ what I’d like to achieve. Many blessings have come because of it, none of which I could have ever predicted. Alonzo’s wisdom shines throughout all of it. If you can open yourself to the transformation this program brings, then the rewards will present themselves in unimaginable ways.
Interview by Erin McKay
ABOUT TRAINING GROUND
Our newest pre‐professional pathway is perfect for the avid dancer who wants a more serious regimen but may have financial or time constraints. Divided into a 3-4 month season, Training Ground is accessible for international and domestic students alike. Enrollment for our online 2021 Fall season is open now. No auditions required. To learn more, visit: linesballet.org/training-ground
Photography: Jason Lam