In a world where time moves quickly and art often goes unappreciated, welcome to the stage, Kara Kinnamon. She joins us to share her journey into the world of performance art that is flexing evening entertainment to its bounds.
Kara Kinnamon is a dancer and writer in Baltimore, MD. She performs weekly at Monarque, a French Steakhouse with a show, and is the lead choreographer and captain. Her writing has appeared in Baltimore Style, The Roadrunner Review, East by Northeast, and Betches. She’s currently working on her debut novel.
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Kara Kinnaman 0:07
She was interacting with Juan who’s dancing on stage by himself at that point, Corrin and I hadn’t entered stage. And as we come out, we just see her. She’s at the edge of the stage like crawling towards him dancing with him.
Brittany Brown 0:20
Now let’s jump in.
Rob Winters 0:28
Welcome. Thanks for tuning in. Today we are joined by Kara Kinnaman, who is probably one of our most flexible guests today. Kara, thank you so much for being with us.
Kara Kinnaman 0:37
Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
Rob Winters 0:39
Absolutely. I recently had the chance to see you performing with the Monarchettes, and would it be appropriate to say that you and your fellow performers are contortionists?
Kara Kinnaman 0:50
So not me, I’m just a dancer. But yes, we do have other circus acts involved with us to keep it interesting. I am not that flexible, but you know, a little more flexible than the average human.
Rob Winters 1:03
I was gonna say, if that is not that flexible. I’m like, Oh, my God, I’m like, I saw some impressive stuff. And I’m over here, like, Oh, God, I can’t even bend a little bit.
Kara Kinnaman 1:12
Brittany Brown 1:13
Kara, How did you get into this? Because it seems pretty unique. And it also reminds me a little bit of Vegas.
Kara Kinnaman 1:18
Yes. So, I’ve been dancing my whole life. I grew up in Salisbury, Maryland, on the eastern shore. And I moved to Baltimore about six years ago, and ever since I’ve been trying to figure out how I was going to get involved in dance again, because I had, I was running a dance program back home. And you know, growing up somewhere, you have no people and kind of are in touch with whatever that industry pulse is that you’re in that way, you know, it was not the case when I moved here. And it was hard to kind of figure out how I was going to continue to do even if it was just, you know, hobby based, how I was going to continue to dance, I guess it had started with I put on some dance fitness classes, I had contacted a bar in the area, I’d seen that they had done yoga and offer drinks afterwards. But that’s kind of how I just called the bar basically emailed them and was like, Hey, would you be interested in doing this? So that was my first foray into letting Baltimore know even if it was a very small circle, hey, this is what I can do. Let’s have some fun from that. The bar actually contacted me it’s The Charles in Federal Hill, they have this gorgeous window, because I think it used to be a bank, and they had contacted me, it was the New Years of 2019, they’re gonna do a big roaring 20s, you know, because we all thought 2020 was gonna be an incredible year and they did this whole blowout, like burlesque vibe, New Year’s ticketed event. And they asked me if I would do three performances on the hour in that window. And I did and it was incredible. It was so much fun. And they had a videographer there. So I got a lot of great footage from it, which is the first time I had done something where that I had footage to kind of tote and so you know, prior this was, you know, five years living in the Baltimore at this point. I had cold called a few places and knew of Atlas and had been to the Elk Room and I had been Bygone was like, you know, this would be a really cool entertainment space, you know, especially for nightlife. And they were kind of like into it, but we’re like, well, we need to see what you can do. And I lived in a teeny, tiny townhouse. And I didn’t want anything to look unprofessional. Like I wanted to put my best step forward. So once that happened, once the New Year’s Eve happened, I knew Okay, I have footage now that I can come back to them with and I did and they were like, wow, this is incredible. We’re actually opening a new concept restaurant called Monarch. And this would actually be perfect for that. So, this was in January 2020. And then obviously, everything was put on hold because of COVID. This was right before everything shut down. But it was actually a blessing because then we had a ton of time to prepare. I could find other dancers and get the show put together and we opened last October so I’ll have almost been there for a year.
Rob Winters 3:53
Wow time is right.
Kara Kinnaman 3:55
It does a COVID year is different than a normal year.
Rob Winters 3:58
Oh my god, it feels like 10 years in one.
Kara Kinnaman 4:00
Brittany Brown 4:01
So how did you find the other dancers? Were they friends of yours? Did you put something out on like Craigslist?
Kara Kinnaman 4:06
Yeah, that is an incredible question. So, I had worked at a dance and cheer competition company because I was also a cheerleader growing up. That is was my first job when I moved over the bridge, as we say, and the owner of the company is also the head coach for the Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders. So, I got to know a lot of the coaches, I got to know a lot of the cheerleaders just from working alongside them being in the office and knowing everybody and my very she’s my very close friend now, but she was hired as my assistant at that job. She was also trying out for the Ravens and she’s a cheerleader has been for me; this is her fifth year. And so, we’ve stayed really close, you know, beyond that job and everything. So, I’ve kind of stayed close to that community through her. And when this was happening, I was like I need dancers. I don’t know how many because you know, we’re we’re just figuring out how this is going to go. We don’t even know what the stage looks like how big it is. And so, as you know she’s on the stunt team has a Do you know any of the dancers who you think would be good, and she is amazing. She needs to get a cut of you know what I make because she found me three amazing dancers who have been just incredible. I can’t imagine starting the show and building this without them. However, my one Her name was Kareena, she was amazing. She moved to California in June. So, I had a long a long, long time with her. But she, you know, it was her destiny to be in California, we’re so happy for her, but we definitely miss her. And then a week later, Juan who is an incredible male dancer, he injured himself. He’s on the Washington football team dance team this year, he used to be on the Ravens, and he injured himself. So we go without him, I have j thank God as well. But we are actually in that process right now of being like, Okay, how do we find more people, we got to build up our team, because we were ready to actually expand into potentially six dancers to doing every other weekend, you know, and I was just working with this small group that I trusted that we could just, you know, build this whole concept with. And now it’s time where it’s like, okay, I can’t be just like, hey, do you know anybody sort of thing? It’s like a whole operation, I’ve got to find some really quality dancers who want to be there every weekend, too, because the hours are hard. So
Rob Winters 6:13
definitely. And I mean, what you guys do is it is very impressive how you all can move your bodies and whole body weight up and you kind of hit on somebody got injured recently. Is that kind of does it happen regularly? Or is it just you know, through practicing, you can kind of get hurt as you’re learning new stuff.
Kara Kinnaman 6:29
Yeah. So I have always been a really, really safe dancer, I’ve not gone well, I’ve never had any major injuries. Even when I was a cheerleader as well. I’ve been very fortunate. However, I know like Juan situation. He’s been working through a bad hip as well. And one of the contortionist is Shelley and she has been working with him a lot on that prior to his elbow being hurt he was working through and dancing through and tumbling with those injuries. So yeah, when you are doing more stuff that is inverted, and bending in certain ways, and like popping out of positions very quickly, that can happen. I’ve been very fortunate that you know, that’s not really my skill set so much I stick more with like your classic dance, but I always really, really listen to my body. And I’ve just been fortunate that I can listen to my body and kind of move through things being at Monarch. So far, the biggest things I’ve dealt with is issues with my feet. And then just being like incredibly sore, sometimes having like a pulled neck or something, but nothing that doesn’t work itself out. But it’s definitely something you know, that we have to keep an eye on and just make sure and it’s really important to listen to our bodies before, you know, the whole show must go on thing. Because at the end of the day, this is not Vegas, it’s gonna be okay. You know?
Rob Winters 7:37
Absolutely. You know, I assume you all do it because you love it you love to perform is that especially for somebody after they get injured and have to go through I don’t maybe PT to kind of recover? Is it the love of the performance that gets them back out there and prevents them from being like, I’m done. That was it?
Kara Kinnaman 7:54
Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely it’s like, also with this kind of stuff with any, you know, hobby industry, or whatever, however you grow that skill. whenever it’s tailored to your body, whether whether you know, when it’s tethered to your body, you know that you have a very short span, basically of your life that you can do that, like I can’t dance forever. And you know what they do even more so you know, tumbling and stuff that’s really high impact and hard on your body that has a limit, you know, you can teach later, but you’re not actually going out you’re certainly not performing anymore. Unfortunately, there’s a very hard out on that. It’s also a kind of thing is like, well, I got to do it while I can that pushes you to and motivates you. But I think what we’re seeing is, I know this is kind of a little bit of a tangent, we’re seeing more of an emphasis on mental health like we did just with the Olympics, we’re learning that we don’t necessarily need to praise people for pushing through and doing something with an injury. You know, this like kind of hero complex isn’t as important anymore. I find that people who are, I mean, again, we’re in Baltimore, so we can be a little more down to earth and everything, but I’m finding that the people surrounded in this industry are a little bit better about being like no, listen to your body. That’s important. We will fill the position we’ll keep that spot open for you sort of thing. It’s not gonna be like, well, if you can’t, you know, finish the show on a broken ankle, then we’re gonna be we’re gonna not that cutthroat Thank God.
Rob Winters 9:22
Fair enough. And also God That sounds terrifying and be like, I might not even come to an interview if I was like, I broke my ankle like Brittany so you’re so the one this one.
Kara Kinnaman 9:31
You know, sit on my couch. Yeah
Rob Winters 9:33
Brittany Brown 9:35
Oh, come on. Rob. Come on.
Rob Winters 9:36
I know I’m a wimp.
Brittany Brown 9:39
you said it, not me. Where else have you performed besides at Monarch?
Kara Kinnaman 9:46
Yeah, so in Baltimore. I haven’t performed anywhere besides doing I did like a Valentine’s Day chair dance class. Just like little classes. I’ve not done like a full blown performance and I didn’t come from a heavy performance background just because of where I lived It was more of the like competition world recital world. So it was performance. But it was to like an audience that was that was an industry audience, basically, or the dance community. So you know, while I was dancing my whole life, this is my first time really performing for you know, outside of like musicals and stuff like that growing up, it’s the first time where they’re not necessarily ready to see me dance, you know, that’s like a new thing that you have to kind of wrap your head around. They don’t. And especially with this being a new concept, restaurant people, especially early on, they didn’t always know what they were getting themselves into. They just saw Oh, a French restaurant. And then here we are, like, shaking our goods in front of them love their steak, you know. So that’s been really interesting. But it’s also been extremely rewarding.
Brittany Brown 10:42
I love that. Do you guys have scheduled performances every week? Are you guys expanding on that? What does that look like right now?
Kara Kinnaman 10:48
Yeah, so right now, and it’s been this way, since we started, the dancers are there every Friday and Saturday, that has always been a staple. And I think the entertainment was kind of built off of us to start with. And then from there, I mean, they always knew that they were gonna have other performers as well. But we are the only performers that are like, what we do is tailored to the restaurant, whereas these other performers might do their acts, other places, they might have acts that are ready that they kind of take around. That is not the case with us. Because we’re a team. We’re really the only act that’s there that’s dancing together, even if you know not all of us are there on one weekend because of an injury or because of something else. Our costumes are specific to the restaurant and to the rest of us because we have to match and our moves are obviously all the same. Because we’re forming a piece that is specific for the restaurant. I forgot your original question. I went off on a whole thing there.
Brittany Brown 11:42
I was just asking about your schedule and what you guys have coming in? Are you guys expanding?
Kara Kinnaman 11:46
Yes. Then they started adding in, you know, the contortionists used to be right before we dance now she’s interspersed with us, and we have other circus acts as well, hoops and stuff like that. So it’s been a little more flexible. They do circus night on Thursdays right now. And we also have those circus girls with us on Fridays and Saturdays. And they’ve been kind of playing with Well, what is the Monarch customer wanting when they come to the space and we’re learning that maybe during the week, it’s good to lighten up or keep the entertainment a little less interactive, because might be people on business who want to have a discussion or make a deal or something like that. They don’t necessarily need us interrupting them. But the thing is, on the weekend, people want that interaction. So it’s hard to know when you’re interrupting something. And when you’re actually giving something that people didn’t even know they wanted. And they’re really responding to dance wise, it seems that it works really well on Fridays, and Saturdays. And it is every weekend, and especially with running on a skeleton cast right now, it’s been really hard because you can’t really do anything else.
Rob Winters 12:49
And that actually made me think of a really good question, because I’m recalling when I was there, and I’m pretty sure somebody said this out loud, you know, no photography, no filming, which of course, there was somebody in the back corner, you could see the flash going off. They’re doing it anyways. Yeah, and you all you’re not just on stage, you are very much present in the restaurant, you’re interspersed with the crowd. So beyond just the annoying cell phone person, do you ever especially because we’re in a place with food and booze? I mean, I might have had a few few glasses of wine, or bottles, whatever. Do you ever run into those patrons who like might think they’re funny or something and they kind of interfere or maybe even interrupt a performance? Because they’re like, Oh, I’m funny. Or I’m gonna like try to touch you guys.
Kara Kinnaman 13:34
Right? Yes, we have been pretty lucky. I’ve been I was actually more prepared for more of that, especially as it gets later. But we’ve been really knock on wood lucky so far. However, we did have one instance where we were doing all three of us, we were performing a finale, which is a beyond a fever, and it goes into the partition, so very, like high energy, especially the younger crowd, they’re there. It’s late. It’s they’re getting a little turnt they’re having a great time, we had a lady, she was like a young lady, she was interacting with Juan who’s dancing on stage by himself. At that point, Corrine and I hadn’t entered stage. And as we come out, we just see her she’s at the edge of the stage, like crawling towards him dancing with him. You know, he’s like, you know, he, he’s not just improving. He’s doing his choreography at this point. It’s fun. At first, she was not hurting anybody, it was fine. It would have been fine if she just did that, like on her way to the bathroom, sort of. And we’ve kind of had that where we’re like standing in the crowd that we get to stage and then people are kind of standing in the aisles like dancing, which is whatever, it’s fine, but she was like, we then entered stage and it did not seem like she was leaving. To finish this dance with us, ma’am. You’re also in my way. I’ve got to get down at some point here. You know, finally, a manager did tap her on the shoulder, but she was they’re having a great time for like a good 30-45 seconds.
Rob Winters 14:52
Shes like I’m auditioning right now. Open call. No, I mean, we’re all friends here now. So I have to ask Have you Are any of the performances ever lost it on a bad patron?
Kara Kinnaman 15:04
Rob Winters 15:05
Damn I wanted some dirt.
Kara Kinnaman 15:07
I know, sorry, we’ve been pretty lucky people are mostly you know, I can’t even think of anything that’s been super uncomfortable. It’s more of a like, from afar discomfort, you might have somebody like a creepy guy or something like that. But they more or less just make you feel uncomfortable rather than having a full blown confrontation. And we are really lucky that the staff there and our director and we know that upper management would have our back if we were to lose it on a patron if it were worth it. We would have that backup. Yeah.
Brittany Brown 15:39
What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?
Kara Kinnamon 15:43
That is a great question. Because I feel like my path has been really unique. You know, it’s not like the typical, I knew that I was never going to be like the starving artist in New York, trying to make it big as a dancer sort of thing. Like, that would be amazing. But I just knew realistically that that was not going to be for me. So I’ve always tried to make dance fit in. And I’ve just been extremely blessed that this opportunity opened up in a city like Baltimore, because that’s super rare, of course. So in that vein, I would just say, yeah, never feel like you have to fit your dream into what that classic dream looks like, never feel like okay, I have to you know if that if you do want to be in music videos, and you do want to be a career dancer, and really make a name for yourself in that way, then yeah, you’ve got to go probably to New York, to LA and make that happen and kind of elbowing your way through. But I’ve been really feeling more So recently, like artists everywhere tried to make I feel like that’s happening, you know, especially in the digital age, make your dream happen where you are in the next city over sort of thing. I couldn’t do this where I’m from, but I only two and a half hours from that little small town and I’m able to do something that’s just so quintessential, I mean, Monarch isn’t just a place where I get to perform like it’s a French burlesque Steakhouse Moulin Rouge was my favorite movie growing up. So really, if you just stay true to what you what is really specific to you what you actually want to do, you’re going to find a way to make that happen. And you’re just gonna have to do a bunch of other random jobs. In the meantime, and you might have three jobs at one time, it’s worth it to even if this fizzles out in here, so if I have to move on or something, because again, this might not be sustainable. I’ll have done this. And that is incredible.
Rob Winters 17:31
Absolutely. And let’s just say everything goes according to plan performance wise, where do you think we’ll see you in the next three to five years headlining somewhere? Vegas?
Kara Kinnaman 17:39
Yes, no, no, I don’t think I’m like I said, I don’t think I’m actually cut out for that world. And think that people who are really hungry for that deserve that more so than I do. I like the idea of still being here in Baltimore. And dance isn’t my full time job. It’s my part time job. So my full time dream is to be a writer, and I’m working on a novel right now. So that is the lofty goal. And something else that I loved about that is I liked having another creative career that does not have limits on my body. The goal is to kind of do this while I can sort of thing make Monarch as big as I possibly can. And if that were to unravel into other cities, other venues, and that would be amazing. But I know that my work at Monarch is not done, we are just getting started. I feel like this year was a lot of learning and adapting based on what we could do. And I feel like what’s next for us is making it a destination for Baltimore, I really feel like I owe that to Baltimore. I think I owe that to Atlas, I want to make it like people are, you know, booking their reservations for the weekend, see the show super out in advance, because it is really something to behold. So that’s gonna take a lot more work and a lot more people. And I’m totally down with sticking through that even if I’m not necessarily on stage much longer. It’s more of a stepping back. That is totally cool with me. I like that I like the choreography aspect. And watching that come to life is actually my favorite part.
Rob Winters 19:09
I think that’s incredible. And I think you already are doing a great job. That is actually what got us to book our reservation that that particular evening. We had not been to that that restaurant. And in exploring their site. It was the show that was the draw. No offense to the food or the wine, which was all delicious. But it was the show that was the draw amazing. I mean, I want to make it better and better and better. Yeah.
Brittany Brown 19:33
That was really cool. And I love that you’re open to the evolution of what your role could be at Monarch, even if you’re not a dancer. So that’s awesome. Yeah. And just a little side note, when you finish your novel, reach out to us. Let’s have another interview.
Kara Kinnaman 19:44
We can have a writing conversation.
Brittany Brown 19:46
I love it. I love it. All right, Kara, thank you so much for being here today. We appreciate it. You’ve been wonderful. And for our listeners, where can they find you if they want to check out Monarch and your show?
Kara Kinnaman 19:57
Absolutely. Yeah. So follow Monarch on Instagram if you’re on Instagram Of course they have a website book your reservation right now we’re there most Fridays and Saturdays I say most because, you know there’s the rare weekend where we have to go live our lives, but it’s not normal. And then of course, I’m on Instagram as well at kara kinnaman with a K and I would love to connect with people tell me what you think about the show. Tell me your unsolicited feedback. I I’ll take it.
Brittany Brown 20:23
I love that. Well Please listen, like and subscribe and we will see you all next week.