Dawn Cooper Barnes, Howard Community College professor and artistic director of the Aurora Dance Company -- considered one of Howard County's premier dance companies -- is in a bit of a hurry.
She is constantly on the go, and finding a few minutes to talk to Barnes, 40, is sometimes tricky unless she can schedule it between her many daily appointments, meetings and rehearsals.
In addition to her solo dancing career, there are her responsibilities as Aurora's choreographer and her schedule at HCC, where she teaches courses on film, dance, English and mass media.
Barnes is also host of "On Location," an arts showcase on Cable 8 and the maker of a documentary about the history of her homeland, the West African nation of Liberia.
She and her husband have been married 20 years and have four sons.
Five years ago, Barnes founded the Aurora Dance Company -- "Aurora" is the name of the Greek goddess of dawn -- as a group that performs a mix of jazz, modern and African dance styles.
Her love of all kinds of dance, particularly African, inspired her to form Aurora. The company focuses on showcasing the history and poetry of world dance styles.
"African dance seems very relevant to me now," she says, "and you've got to do things that are relevant to keep people interested. Live dance companies cannot be sustained solely by the upper classes. You have to access new audiences.
"Aurora's popularity has grown because we go in and have fun," Barnes says.
Barnes' love of movement and her desire to teach American audiences about African folk dance can be traced to her childhood in Monrovia, Liberia, where her family -- descendants of freed slaves from South Carolina who returned to West Africa in 1821 -- had settled.
As a child, Barnes was encouraged to try her hand at drawing, painting and dance. By the time she was 6, she was studying ballet and then explored folk and traditional dance at Liberia's National Cultural Center.
"All the while I was taking ballet at this young age, I was having these fantasies about tribal dances and African cultural dance," she says.
She came to the United States in 1975 at age 16 to attend the University of Michigan, where she focused on dance.
She studied for a master's degree in theater at Hunter College in New York City, mostly so she could take classes at the Alvin Ailey studios. She and her husband, who married as undergraduates, returned in 1980 to Liberia, where she intended to establish a national dance troupe.
Four months later, civil war broke out and Barnes returned to the United States with her husband. She got her doctorate in cinema from the University of Maryland, College Park.
"I'll never stop dancing," Barnes says. "There's always something new to experience."
Pub Date: 3/11/99