Doug Baum is hard to miss onstage. Whether it’s his 180-degree tilt, his hyperextended legs, or his perfectly arched feet, the 31-year old Fallston, MD, native is going to catch your eye. But over the course of a career that took him from Ballets Jazz Montréal to Complexions and finally into the illustrious L.A. Dance Project, his deep love of the form has imbued his movement with a captivating something-extra as he throws himself into diverse, athletic rep. We first met back in 2006, when Doug entered the Ailey/Fordham B.F.A. program, and recently rekindled our friendship on the west coast. After meeting up to shoot these photos with L.A. dancer, choreographer, and photographer Jobel Medina during a two-week break from the company, he and Lara Wilson Townsend caught up over the phone. Below are edited excerpts from that conversation.
ON HIS ORIGINS
It started with sports, which was basically just a segue into dancing. I had been doing gymnastics and my coach left, so I needed something else to do. I pretty much just tried everything I could. I wrestled for eight years, I played soccer, I played baseball, I played lacrosse, I played golf, and I played tennis competitively my freshman year of high school.
I told my mom I wanted to be put in a dance class, and after my first one, I couldn’t get enough. I just wanted to keep coming back, so they sent me to the better studio to get better training. I found my way into competition and had a lot of fun traveling and competing with different numbers against different studios. I kind of felt like my life in sports had found its way into art as well. After that I went to an arts high school where I had more classical technique training, and then I ended up at Fordham.
I’m really, really thankful that I did get put into dance class so long ago. I am where I am now and I’ve had all these experiences and journeys because of dance, and it’s brought a lot of joy and opportunity to my life. It hasn’t always been rainbows and roses, but it has really helped me grow as a person, and I’m just thankful that I get to do it for a living. You know, I wanted to be a gymnast in the Olympics or a professional tennis player, or at one point I wanted to be a chef, but ever since I started dancing, it consumed everything, like that was the only thing I could do.
ON BOYS WHO DANCE
That statement that Lara Spencer made on Good Morning America was really upsetting. I was like, I was that kid, and she’s mocking that kid. I felt insulted. I’ve been dancing since I was eleven, and you don’t think people could do this and make it into something?
But the way our community responded was amazing. I was like, please, shout from the mountaintops. Please, blow up Twitter. You have to nip it in the bud and literally call it out right away—unacceptable. Respond in kind—this is why you’re ignorant. Open your eyes. Hello, world, we’re here and we’re doing it. Have some tact.
ON GETTING HIS START
I worked a few other jobs before Complexions after graduating. I worked at José Navas Compagnie Flak in Montréal. That was my first professional job out of school. I worked with Rasta Thomas and did Rock The Ballet for an entire year. And then I worked with Yuri Zhukov in San Francisco, project-based, a couple years on and off, and also danced for Ballets Jazz Montréal. And there was one more in Boston where I did 28 Nutcrackers for José Mateo [Ballet Theatre].
I think it was just whatever job I could get at the time so I would be working and not not dancing. I’m a firm believer that you should take the opportunities that are given to you, because you never know where else they could lead. Or what you might be able to learn or what you might experience. Every change and every time I moved or worked for somebody else, that taught me something new that I could apply to my life and my career.
ON JOINING, AND LEAVING, COMPLEXIONS
It was a learning experience for sure. When I was hired, I definitely had a lot of room to grow and a lot to learn. I was very excited to work with Dwight [Rhoden] and Desmond [Richardson], because they did teach me a lot, and I did work really hard while I was there and grew as an artist and in my craft. They would talk a lot about how performing is something universal, and how Complexions had to bring something to the table that was above the rest. It taught me a lot. Unfortunately, you could say it didn’t end ideally, but that’s life sometimes.
When I dance and when I perform, it gets me out of my shell and I can be a different person. That changes from performance to performance and from piece to piece. I like any kind of work that challenges you or makes you think differently.
I feel electrified when I’m performing. It’s that natural high you get from being in front of an audience and not worrying about what’s going to happen, but going with it, like riding a wave. For me, that’s like a spiritual experience, almost being in a different head space, a different mental state. The focus is heightened.
I feel like I’m influencing and affecting people’s lives in a hopefully positive way. After shows, you meet a lot of young aspiring dancers, or people that are just so enamored with the work and us as dancers. You constantly hear, “Oh my god, the things you guys are capable of doing,” and, you know, “What you did up there was just unbelievable, amazing, incredible,” and most of the time it is. What we’re doing is pretty fucking incredible.
ON LA DANCES
L.A.D.P. is doing 6 weeks of shows for the first time in the space, including Benjamin [Millepied]’s work. He’s brought together a ton of different pieces for the L.A. community to come and see at our wonderful space that’s being turned into a stage and a theater. We’ve performed there before [as a black box], but now it’s got the whole shebang, so it’s going to be pretty epic.
I’m doing Shannon Gillen’s piece, Run From Me, and this will be the first time I’m ever doing it, because I learned it from Nathan Makolandra, who recently left the company. The piece itself is a doozy. It’s really physical, but amazing and super challenging. Athletically, stamina, partnering, oh my god, it scares me! In the best way.
ON NY VS. LA
In New York, you see the same people all the time at the same audition and the same rehearsals. It’s so over-saturated. New York is this giant hub for dancers, which is great, because there’s a lot of art and a lot of work going on, but after a while it’s kind of like, alright, we get it. New York is very much in your face.
I definitely see myself trying to stay here as long as possible. I really enjoy living in Los Angeles and being able to do this kind of work in Los Angeles. Even right now, I appreciate the sunset out of my window looking downtown. I also like the freedom of having my car and being able to jet over to the beach if I have time off, or go visit a friend in a different part of town. The only part that sucks is the traffic, but it beats having a smelly cracked-out person next to you yelling at you on the train. Like, at least you can be in your car with A/C listening to music.
ON INDOOR ROCK CLIMBING
Every time I get a chance to go, I do, because it requires you to use your body in a way that you haven’t before. It’s different kinds of strength and flexibility, so I really like it as a dancer because it’s super physical and really challenging. It’s not just physical—when you’re climbing, you have to think about what you’re doing as you’re doing it, and execute it just like in dance.
ON BREAKING THE DRESS CODE
Oh, hell yeah! Every now and then I like to put on a pair of crazy tights. But then other days you want to wear something more relaxed or more baggy and you just don’t want to feel like that dancer that day. You want to wear something you feel good in.
Words and creative direction by Lara Wilson, images by Jobel Medina, tights by MSeam