It is 9 AM on a Sunday, and I'm doing jumping jacks and staring at a naked marble statue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A minute later, to the strains of the Bee Gees, two sequin-clad dancers guide our group of spandex-clad New Yorkers through the Met's labyrinthine galleries. We pause in front of African totems for stretches and a Medieval suit of armor for the lunge portion. We fist pump before a headless statue of Saint Fermin, who cradles his decapitated noggin as though a bunch of adult humans dancing to disco early in the morning in a museum is totally normal and sane.
If you're like me, and you grew up reading E. L. Konigsburg's novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, you might still harbor the secret dream of frolicking through the Met after hours, like the runaway children in the book. Monica Bill Barnes & Company, the most imaginative dance company I have ever experienced, is facilitating the next best thing: The Museum Workout, an early morning art tour/dance workout staged at the Met before it opens.
It feels like an incredible, goofy secret. During The Museum Workout, Monica Bill Barnes and longtime dancing partner, Anna Bass, lead our group through the museum's lesser-trafficked, lower level galleries on a route designated by artist and author Maira Kalman. The art on display is a mashup of Greek and Roman sculpture, indigenous art from Africa and the Americas, religious iconography, and Medieval armor. It's by no means an exhaustive tour, but it is exhausting: The Museum Workout takes us through nooks and crannies of the museum I'd forgotten existed. The only other people around are museum guards, who spend every workday surrounded by the world's greatest art, but who are, notably, spending their last off-duty moments scrolling through their phones before tourists flood the galleries.
Barnes, Bass, and the Company's Creative Producing Director, Robbie Saenz de Viteri, asked Kalman to help them invent a new way to spend time in museums, so it's fitting that_ The Museum Workout_'s disco soundtrack is peppered with Kalman's musings on the subject, recorded during an interview conducted at her kitchen table. "Something very physical happens to me when I'm in a museum. I get this rush of excitement—this kind of tingle of mad, passionate arousal—and it's something that I expect to have happen," Kalman's voice says during the tour. "I'm always happy, and I'm always pleased, to see that it really does, so if I'm with a person in a museum, there's a chance that we could be falling in love. But more likely, I'm falling in love, in a very real way, with the artist that I'm looking at and wondering what my life would be with them, and wondering what kind of conversations we'd have, and what kind of tragic moments we'd have—plenty of tragic moments, I'm sure."
Before the workout began, de Viteri told our group that the museum requires him to read part of the waiver that we all signed out loud. It's a section that insists we may not touch the art. But moving and stretching, feeling sensation in my muscles and limbs while looking at Henry VIII's field armor or John Singer Sargent's Madame X, adds an unexpected, visceral layer to the act of museum-going. Dancing to More Than A Woman in front of a row of marble busts shakes up my context for the art. Not to mention, it's really fun fun. At one point, I wish New York school kids could experience the city's museums like this. But mostly, I'm jonesing to watch Saturday Night Fever .
The Museum Workout at The Metropolitan Museum of Art was recently held over, with additional performance dates on Monday, Feb 27 through Sunday, March 5; and Tuesday, March 7 through Thursday, March 9. For those who can't snag tickets, check outMonica Bill Barnes & Company's Happy Hour, a monthly "office party" dance performance.