Not too long ago, I saw a Lifetime Movie called Center Stage: On Pointe, the third in a popular series of films focusing on dancers and their experiences. In this third film, I noticed a young, impressive dancer in one of the lead roles. I was intrigued to know a little more about him, and thankfully Barton Cowperthwaite (who exemplarily brought Damon to life in the film) agreed to answer a few questions about his career, his life, and his work with this amazing film.
RH: Please tell us how you got started in dancing. Also, please tell us about your background and training in this art form.
BC: I suppose I’ve always had some ants in my pants. However, my younger brother will forever take credit for getting my dancing started. He had a crush on a girl when he was in second grade. Our moms decided to put them in hip hop classes together to cultivate a budding young romance. After a couple classes, he came to me and said that he didn’t want to take anymore if I didn’t do it with him. I agreed to one hip hop class (I was twelve years old), and the rest is history as they say.
Since then, I’ve trained in hip hop, jazz, tap, ballet, modern, contemporary, gaga, improvisation, some ballroom, and some tricking. I went to Denver School of the Arts for dance and attended The University of Arizona for dance to earn my Bachelor’s in Fine Arts.
So what caused you to get involved in TV/film? Tell us about your first job in that medium.
The camera has always been alluring. I’ve had an affinity for film and television for most of my life and always wanted to be a part of it. The first movie I ever did was a short film at UA by a senior director in the film department. He auditioned a lot of the dancers in our department and ended up selecting me to play the lead. We shot on location at all of these beautiful spots around the desert. It was my first time working with a film director, and learning about the subtleties required to act for the camera.
How did you get involved with Center Stage: On Pointe? What was that experience like for you? What was the filming environment like?
Center Stage actually found me! I was sort of unemployed at the time and really focusing on my ballet training. I briefly went back home to Colorado, when my agent emailed me a script saying, “Here’s a movie that needs a dancer who can act.” I sent in the self-tapes, and one week later, I was on a plane to begin the filming process.
It was all very surreal at first. Being a freelance dancer has many unique challenges. Acclimating to the filming environment brought it’s own set of difficulties and trials that I had to learn about rather quickly. It was a very supportive environment though. Most everyone was a dancer, and we all bonded very quickly over our excitement to be working on something so fresh and unique.
Any other upcoming works you can mention?
I just had my New York City live acting debut in Jack Ferver’s I Want You To Want Me, at The Kitchen NYC. It was a very funny horror ballet play. It was a cast of four. We spent about a month and a half building the show from the script that Jack wrote. It was an absolute blast to perform and left me feeling very artistically fulfilled and inspired.
I do have another big project coming soon, but I can’t share specifics for it quite yet!
Any plans to eventually go into choreographing and/or directing/producing/writing films/TV shows?
Choreography has always been an enchantress in the mists for me. I’ve gotten to choreograph several times, and each time I fall for it a bit more. I think I have a lot more performing to do, but one day choreographing and directing may well be a main focus of mine.
The arts are often where cuts in education happen first. What would you say to those who do not see the value in the arts and would prefer to cut these programs?
People cut funding to these programs because there is less immediate return on investment. The arts are priceless in that manner though, because what comes from an artist comes from nowhere else. Funding for arts in education is vital to cultivating passionate, dedicated, compassionate human beings. Even if you don’t become “an artist,” the lessons you learn in arts education are invaluable. When someone speaks about a place they’ve never been, it’s often in awe of the art that exists in that place. So even though you may not see an immediate turnaround for your capital, the arts are going to be one of, if not, the most valuable part of any developing community.
Have you seen first hand how art has transformed the lives of young people? Elaborate generally if you can.
I have been blessed in my life to live the change that you speak of. Art gives young lives a discipline. It trains young minds, showing them that hard work, dedication, creativity, and patience can produce a result that one can be proud of. I know that art therapy can be incredibly helpful to children facing disability, illness, or less fortunate circumstances as well.
There does seem to be a stigma in society with boys and dance (especially ballet). What would you tell young boys and their parents especially to convince them that it’s perfectly acceptable for boys to get involved in dance?
Thankfully, in my life this stigma has lost much of the power that it previously possessed. Young men are more often than not these days supported in their desires to move. To those who face opposition in their desires to dance, I will say this. Dance is for you and is what you make it. The battles you fight to stay in the studio will make you a stronger dancer and a better person. Being a dancer has very little to do with sexual preference or identity and much more to do with work ethic and dedication. Dance will show you that what you put in is what you will get back; everything else is just background noise. So ignore the bullies, argue the value of it to your parents and your teachers, be kind, and practice. One day you could be getting to groove on the big screen!
Do you have a favorite style of dance? Is there some form of dance you would like to learn one day that you haven’t?
I’d say that my favorite style of dance is ballet. However, I’d say that a greater portion of my talent lies within a contemporary movement vocabulary. If I were to pick a style to learn that I haven’t yet, I would have to say ballroom. I love partnering, and ballroom dancers have such an amazing energy when they move. Every step is effortlessly in sync with their partner, and when it’s done well, it is absolutely mesmerizing!
Dance is one of those things that has always entranced me, and I think Barton is one of those dancers who will continue to persevere in not only attaining a successful career, but a life of living out his dreams because not only is he talented, but he is humble and grateful. For him, it is not just enough to dance and get to the top of his career. As he has been a recipient of all the joy and transformation of a life that art and dance can bring to unpretentious souls on this earth, I am convinced that he will persist in giving back as long as he has life and breath within him. Furthermore, he is one who endeavors to hone his craft and inspire others to do the same, and I certainly look forward to seeing him in countless works to come in the future. He is the kind of genteel but stalwart spirit who is uniquely suited to rise to new heights due to his unswerving commitment to the arts and his profession while still maintaining his teachable nature. For now, be sure to check out all the links below lest you miss one step of this glorious path upon which he is dancing along.
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