"I Choreograph Because My Own Story is Untold; I Need to Dance it Into Being"
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The largest obstacles placed in my path were gendered expectations—bathrooms and changing rooms at dance schools, studios and theaters; binary-gendered dance roles and costumes; strictly-and-only-ever heterosexual partnering; and never having a single trans dance teacher, role model or mentor.
We all have a deep need to hear our story told and to see ourselves reflected back to us. This is why I choreograph dances rooted in trans and queer experience. I choreograph because my own story is untold–and so I need to dance it into being.
I choreograph because I am in love with movement and language. I am a choreographer; I am also a writer and a storyteller. My dances spin together full-throttle movement, text-based sound scores, luscious queer partnering and original music.
I choreograph to bring forward missing stories. I created my most recent full-evening work, THE MISSING GENERATION, after recording 75 hours of oral-history interviews with trans and queer longtime survivors of the early AIDS epidemic.
As we perform the work on its 20-city tour, we also host intergenerational LGBTQ community forums on HIV/AIDS, and teach free trans-friendly workshops.
This year, I launched a new national program through my trans arts nonprofit Fresh Meat Productions: TRANSform Dance. It responds to the crisis of the almost-total absence of transgender and gender-nonconforming bodies, voices and leadership in contemporary dance through our performances, workshops, trainings, leadership development and education of the field.
It all comes back to the body. Love, fear, trauma, loneliness, awe, rage, joy, delight … these parts of the human experience live in the body, and so I believe that they are best reflected back to us through the body.Telling stories through dance crumbles our defenses, opens our hearts and allows us to connect deeply. Gorgeous, glorious, spinning, sweaty trans and queer bodies in motion are an exquisite revolution the world needs.
You know compelling musicality when you see it. But how do you cultivate it? It's not as elusive as it might seem. Musicality, like any facet of dance, can be developed and honed over time—with dedicated, detailed practice. At its most fundamental, it's "respect for the music, that this is your partner," says Kate Linsley, academy principal of the School of Nashville Ballet.
Notable dancer and beloved teacher, Ross Parkes, 79, passed away on August 5, 2019 in New York City. He was a founding faculty member at Taipei National University of the Arts in Taiwan, where he taught from 1984 to 2006. Lin Hwai-min, artistic director of Cloud Gate Dance Theater, said: "He nurtured two generations of dancers in Taiwan, and his legacy will continue."
About his dancing, Tonia Shimin, professor emerita at UC Santa Barbara and producer of Mary Anthony: A Life in Modern Dance, said this: "He was an exquisite, eloquent dancer who inhabited his roles completely."
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
More than once, when I'm sporting my faded, well-loved ballet hoodie, some slight variation of this conversation ensues:
"Is your daughter the dancer?"
"Actually," I say, "I am."
"Wow!" they enthuse. "Who do you dance with? Or have you retired...?"
"I don't dance with a company. I'm not a professional. I just take classes."
Insert mic drop/record scratch/quizzical looks.