Audrey Baran began attending UNC Charlotte in 2000, graduated in 2003, then returned to the school as an adjunct lecturer in 2009. Though she wasn’t at the school on April 30 when a student opened fire in a classroom on campus, killing two students and injuring four others, as soon as she heard the news she felt as if her home were being attacked.
“I’ve been a part of UNC Charlotte for almost 20 years,” she told me on a recent afternoon in a dance studio on campus. “For this to happen here … you see it on TV and hear it on the radio, it’s always somewhere else until it happens to you.”
The experience inspired Baran to develop “Luck of the Young,” a new dance piece based on the shooting that 12 of her students will perform at this weekend’s UNC Charlotte 2019 Fall Dance Concert. You can read more about the piece and the process behind it here.
Baran, who moved to Monroe from New Jersey in 1986 at 4 years old, has spent nearly her whole life in the local dance scene, and in 2012 founded her own company, Baran Dance.
Following a recent rehearsal, we chatted with the 2019 UNC Charlotte Distinguished Alumna in Dance recipient about dedicating her life to an often underappreciated art.
Queen City Nerve: How long have you been dancing.
Audrey Baran: Since I was 3 or 4; since I could move.
You moved to the area around the same time. What’s your path been like since then?
I grew up in Monroe, so that’s my area, but I went to UNC Charlotte — I graduated 2003 — so I’ve been in Charlotte since 2000 and have been dancing in Charlotte ever since. I danced with a couple local companies for a few years and then I was teaching all around. Then I started my own company, Baran Dance, in 2012, so I’ve been pretty much running my company, teaching here, teaching at a couple local studios over the past decade and a half.
What was it like to return to the university as an instructor six years after graduation?
It was a big change. Robinson Hall [for the Performing Arts] didn’t exist when I was a student here, and the department has grown so much since then, it’s really been nice to see the pool of dancers from all over the country that are coming here now. It used to be the dance and theatre departments were one, and then they split [in 2008].
So I feel like the Department of Dance has really come into its own. It’s always a struggle for dance departments to be taken seriously by the university in any institution I think, so I think they’re doing a really great job with building up this department and this program by building up majors. Just to see the changes in it has been great, because it was pretty small when I was here.
How have you seen that growth continue since you returned 10 years ago?
I’ve been here intermittently for the last 10 years but really consistently for the last three. They have so much more variety and a lot of different kinds of classes to offer the students; they have hip-hop and Afro-Brazilian and Latin dance and tap. It used to just be ballet and modern; that was pretty much all we had. It was nice to see students get more variety.
They also have student-run organizations where they get to make their own work. They do more commercial styles that they’re used to or have come from, so I feel like they’re trying to cater a little bit to what the students are wanting and needing to go out into the world and be really versatile dancers and not just put in a box.
I noticed a focus on diversity in the bill for the Fall Dance Concert. Is that a priority here?
Dance is notorious for being practiced by white women and it’s obvious in the department that that’s not the hard and fast rule. We have a good student body of representation of many genders and identities and races and backgrounds and also cultural and dance physicality backgrounds. A lot of students are coming from just having done African dance or just ballet, so they all have to do everything, or at least a little bit of everything to stay on track so they can’t just get stuck in a rut.
How have you seen the Charlotte-area dance scene change over the years?
It used to be North Carolina Dance Theatre and Moving Poets, and that was pretty much all there was in Charlotte. And then little companies — Martha Connerton’s company [Kinetic Works], E.E. Balcos — small pop-up companies starting coming up, including mine, Triptych Collective, Taproot CLT, it’s just been nice to see so many more people getting involved in making dance and producing dance and not just leaving it to the larger companies who, to be frank, get all the funding.
It’s been really nice to see people individually forming their own brand but also supporting each other. We do a lot of collective shows and sharing space. It’s hard because it’s so competitive, because dance is underappreciated sometimes or underfunded, and people aren’t aware of it, that it can be fun and exciting and touching and riveting.
It does seem like dance never gets the same eyes on it that visual arts, music, theatre and others get, but it seems there is always a passionate community of folks who are going to be in love with this art form regardless.
I think dance is timeless, and I guess all art is, but I think people are intimidated by [dance], thinking they’re not going to get it, or it’s going to be boring or it’s going to be stuffy, and it can be those things, but it doesn’t have to be. A lot of the dance makers in Charlotte are using alternative spaces and steering away from doing just presentational main stage things, and there’s nothing wrong with that, too, but I try to partner with a lot of musicians through my husband, to try to bridge that gap and say, “Hey, this is also a fun event where you can come and have a beer and it’s not going to be that you have to sit in a chair for two hours and not do anything.”
You mentioned your husband, who is Mark Baran a stand-up bassist with Sinners & Saints. He’s one of those creatives in a scene that gets plenty of the eyes, and in a very popular band at that. What’s it like to both be moving in those respective local scenes?
We joke with each other how some people know him as Audrey’s husband, some people know me as Mark’s wife, I guess depending on what circles you run in, but we’re both really supportive of each other’s art and work and we tell each other when things aren’t working and we’re kind of each other’s best critics. I love seeing him enjoy the popularity that he has and I support him all the way, whether he’s in town or touring, I love that he’s getting to enjoy his art, and that I am, too.