Dancers & Companies

The Trocks Are Reaching LGBTQIA Youth & Elders Through Dance

Roberto Ricci

Over the last 40 years, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has become known for farcical versions of classical ballets, with the majority of the all-male company donning full drag, including hair, makeup, tutus and pointe shoes. But recently, the Trocks have found new purpose in an educational outreach program the company piloted this summer at advocacy organizations including the Ali Forney Center, which focuses on empowering homeless LGBTQIA youth and SAGE, which assists older LGBTQIA adults.


Artistic director Tory Dobrin explains the motivation for the recent venture: "Even though we are based in NYC, we haven't had much presence here for many years—our Joyce Theater season is only every two years. But when we hit 40, we realized that the Trocks do have a specific legacy and place in NYC's LGBT history, and it is one we can continue even when the company is on tour." Over the years, the company has been a beacon within LGBT culture, due to its emphasis on drag performance.

Trocks alum Roy Fialkow, along with current company members, have created a workshop that combines dance history, choreography and performance. Sometimes, they show videos as a crash course on dance history and to demonstrate the importance of individuality in dance. The workshops center on teaching a ballet warm-up, followed by choreography from "The Dying Swan."

Fialkow has a background as an adaptive physical education teacher, and is well-versed in teaching movement to participants with widely differing physical capabilities. He stresses the importance of a holistic approach and a physically and emotionally safe space, so participants feel comfortable experimenting with challenging choreography. In one case, a blind participant has been able to take part in the workshops, with the help of an additional educator to ensure safety.

Participants are encouraged to modify movements when appropriate; even observing from the sidelines and offering constructive feedback is considered a viable form of participation. Adventurous attendees may eventually flex their choreographic muscles as well, as workshop content expands to encompass subjects like dance-making and ballet mime.

The hope is that participants build a sense of community and trust during the workshops, and perhaps choose to incorporate more creativity in other areas of their lives, develop a new sense of self-worth or just enjoy using their mind and body in new ways. And the Trocks, in addition to teaching the choreography, make themselves available as a positive image within the LGBTQIA community, especially for their younger participants. "This is who we are. We haven't given up our identities, and we are making our way in the world like this. So, it gives them a positive role model," says Fialkow.

Dobrin says there is a possibility to expand the workshops: "We are hoping that we can take them to the communities where we tour. Eventually, we would like to have a structure in place where we can send someone out to do these workshops separate from the rest of the company. But we want to be sure we are doing it right, so for now, we are keeping it small."

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From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.

New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.

A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

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"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

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Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

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Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

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