ASU dance faculty member wins 2021 Bessie Award


Lacy Chaffee

LaTasha Barnes, a new faculty member in Arizona State University’s School of Music, Dance and Theatre, recently received a 2021 Bessie Award as an outstanding performer for her sustained achievement in dance. 

“Barnes is celebrated globally for her musicality, athleticism and joyful presence,” according to the nomination. “... She is an amazing dancer telling a beautiful and captivating story.”

The Bessies are an annual awards ceremony celebrating outstanding dance artists in New York. The awards ceremony was held virtually this year. In her acceptance speech, Barnes acknowledged her role as “tradition-bearer, artist and scholar.”

Barnes is dedicated to sharing Black American social dance, including house, hip-hop, Waacking, vernacular jazz and Lindy Hop. In presenting “The Jazz Continuum” — which premiered at the Guggenheim Museum and Jacob’s Pillow this past summer — Barnes wove these styles together, simultaneously teaching the history and connections of jazz dance and music while also leading them into the future.

Along with the brain trust of Caleb Teicher, Evita Arce and Nathan Bugh, Barnes also helped bring the groundbreaking show “Swing Out” to the Joyce Theatre. This piece set Lindy Hop on the concert stage using a combination of flexible choreographed movement and improvisation.

“It was just so amazing to be able to do it with such a globally diverse cast, so they can see how impactful their art has been,” Barnes said.

“Swing Out” also furthered Barnes’ mission to inspire and serve her community. Audience members often came to a show, attended workshops in the community and then came back to participate in the onstage, post-show jam session.

“I’ve always endeavored to be fully of service to my community and culture in all of the spaces and places that I‘m called to be,” Barnes said. “I look forward to continuing to be a creative and inspiring force in the New York dance community as well as our global community.”

Barnes was recognized along with three other performers: Annique Roberts, d. Sabela grimes and Jasmine Hearn. 

In addition to the award Barnes received, the Bessies also recognized ASU alum Janessa Clark (BFA in dance choreography, 2000). Clark was nominated for a 2021 production Bessie for her experimental screendance “Communion.” This work was a response to the pandemic and separation of performers. It features 40 dancers who perform virtual duets to original music.