The art of dance captures the body in a peculiar spot between real time thinking and performativity. The act of performing with one’s physical body, whether it be on a stage or in a studio, gives the audience and the performer a chance to play with ideas of what bodies can do and mean as they mingle between the space of pure performativity and natural instinct. Anne Cooper Albright says in her 1997 work Choreographing Difference:
Unlike most other cultural production, dance relies on the physical body to enact its own representation. But at the very moment the dancing body is creating a representation, it is also in the process of actually forming that body. Put more simply, dancing bodies simultaneously produce and are produced by their own dancing (Albright, 1997).
Albright’s work discusses how dance can and has been used to stage various representations of identity. Her writing uses feminist and queer theory to look at the work of women, disabled artists and artists of color in the field of dance. Her work focuses on work made in an experimental, post-modern structures. Although, she does not look explicitly at the work of queer identified artists, Clare Croft’s project Queer Dance twenty years later tackles that subject head on.
Due to its multifaceted forms of representation dance is a compelling and often confusing medium for queer artists to work in. Queerness in dance may seem like a given fact due to stereotypes about the assumed homosexuality of male dancers. Yet, that concept of queerness is quiet limiting to the sphere of work that can be qualified as queer dance. In the 2017 web compilation and companion book titled Queer Dance, Clare Croft puts together essays, video interviews and performance clips from current queer identifying dance and theatre artists with the questions “What is queer dance?” And “how does one make queer dance?” Speaking of the term queer, Croft says:
In Queer Dance “queer” arises from a critical entanglement of gender and sexuality within a larger call for resisting normativity. “Queer” functions as an umbrella term for LGBTQ people and recognizes non-normativity more broadly… Queer Dances focuses on what queer does, rather than imagining queer as having an essential referent or marker within an individual or a relationship. That said, for many their manifestation of gender and sexual identity is a crucial mode for staging queer critique. To lay claim to “queer” as one’s identity, as many do in the twenty-first century, often denotes a non-normative gender or sexual identity and that one is not invested in more mainstream LGBT policies. This is an example of how a label can take on a queerly performative function, undoing even what we think a label does (Croft, 2017).
This broader definition of queerness lends itself to a more open and fluid sense of what makes dance queer and how one produces queer dance. In this multimedia work the artists work to discuss how current and past work can be queered by both covert and overt avenues. This essay, unlike the work of Croft and Albright, does not seek to analyze performed work as a whole but instead analyze the varying ways that queer dance makers visualize, think about and understand their own bodies during the compositional process. This work will use Croft’s definition of queer identity and Albright’s epistemological understanding of the body. On this term Albright says:
I use the term epistemological (to know, to understand, literally to stand upon a place) because what is at stake in discussions about the body is often not simply an issue of knowledge (how do we best come to know the body- through language, images, sensations, or experiences?) but also one of place (where do we place the body- in nature or in culture?). Because dance is primarily a nonverbal artform that places the physical body at the center of its representational structure (Albright, 1997).
Using Croft and Albright’s written work as well as other dance and queer theory this work will analyze the language used by current queer dance makers to take a deeper look at the process of creating queered dance. Looking at the compositional process takes the analyses of the dance out of the arena of heightened performativity and real time decision making. Instead we can look closer at the maker’s understanding of the performing bodies. This will give insight to how composition decisions are made both consciously and unconsciously by the choreographers.
Five queer identifying dancers and dance makers were interviewed using a semi-structured, narrative style. Each of the participants are making public work in and around the New England area, and New York. The participants were Jessi, an eighteen year old non-binary lesbian. Morgan, a twenty-one year old bisexual woman. Oona, a twenty-three year old non-binary, pansexual. Miguel, a forty-three year old non-binary gay man, and Natalie, a nineteen year old pansexual woman. All of the participants wished for their names to be included and not to be anonymous.
These interviews lasted from twenty to forty-five minutes and were then coded for emerging themes. Each interview was compared to the others after coding. The emerging themes showed a correlation between those who used similar gender labels over those who shared similar sexual labels. Two identified as non-binary and three as cis gendered. Though, Miguel used the label of cis- man he went on to describe that his gender presentation and his understanding of his gender fell more in line with the umbrella of non-binary. His interview responses reflected more of the same themes with the other two participants who identified as non-binary, thus he is included in the non-binary group for analyses. Four of the five participants were below the age of twenty-five. Their perspectives are those of young queer artists who are beginning their careers. Miguel, being the oldest participant at forty-three, helps put the young queers ideas into more perspective as he has been involved in both activism and professional dance longer than they have.
It must be made clear that these participants do not represent a large portion of the queer community. All except one where white. Miguel was Latinx. And all have been afforded the opportunities to take dance classes from a young age, which in itself is a classed act.
Each of the participants had experience with ballet, jazz, modern and post-modern techniques. Some did indicate that they had studied other movement performance types such as swing dance, Irish Step and physical theatre.
The results that will be discussed are categorized as the use ballet structures in their work, the mechanical understanding of bodies and the use of dance as a narrative medium. Thesew will be compared to the use of improv structures, group dynamics over individual bodies, and experience over narrative. The third theme is the desire to not be viewed as the essential queer. The final category that will be discussed is the awareness of the body’s preconceived inscriptions before those bodies enter the stage.
Results- Ballet vs Improvisation
The two participants who identified as cis women were Morgan, a twenty-one year old bisexual and polyamorous dancer living and making work in Boston and Natalie, a nineteen year old pansexual woman making work in Vermont. Both had some training in modern and post-modern techniques as well as other forms, such as swing in Morgan’s case, but the largest part of their dance training was in Ballet. Both women made it clear that they preferred using ballet techniques and structures in their work. When describing the movement qualities she uses Morgan said:
Thinking about it my movements do tend to be more fluid, more soft, and I think, which does connect to me being very feminine and really enjoying that kind of femininity. But I like knowing that there is strength in there as well, that I can do other things, I just prefer the rounder, softer movements.
She emphasizes her preference for more traditionally softer and balletic movement qualities and dynamics. While she explains that she can still bring more “strength” into her body, she still chooses not to. She not only emphasizes a comfort in traditional movement qualities but also traditional ideas about what those qualities mean when performed by her body. For example, her preferred types of qualities lack strength and she sees them as a purely feminine representation. She thus links softness with femininity and strength with masculinity.
Natalie did not make any connections between ballet and traditional femininity but said that she much preferred the qualities of classical training and felt she needed that training to feel comfortable with making dance work. She prefered the clear cut routes to movement creation she experienced in ballet over the potentially looser and open ended routes of creation in post-modern forms.
The three participants who identified with non-binary genders were Miguel, Jessi and Oona. They are making work in New York, Europe and Vermont, as well as in Seattle. While discussing the work they are making now and have made in the last few years each of them stated that they worked with various improvisational forms of movement creation instead of classically structured ones. This departure from traditional structures led these three dancers to talk more about the dynamics between bodies than each body as an individual. When asked to describe their rehearsal process Oona said:
Some of the work I’ve done, especially the really experimental stuff I don’t rehearse. I just give prompts and then I have the people show up day of, moment of, and we start the performance. And so that’s extreme, and other dance pieces and theatre pieces I have done or directed I lead pretty much entirely. I often create games and experiments for everybody to participate in for me to observe as my main goal. Sometimes I will have people come in with their own stuff or I give them prompts before the rehearsal.
The participants showed deep interest in working with western forms of movement generation. Ballet and the specific forms of improvisation mentioned are from Western Europe and America. Both of these kinds of compositional structures are widely used in western countries today.
Results- Pulling the body apart vs Dynamics Between Bodies
When asked how they thought about their bodies during the rehearsal and creative process both Natalie and Morgan said that they “pulled apart” their bodies. Natalie said:
But I just really, kind of, go to a space where, this is very weird and specific but I imagine myself without any skin. And I can, maybe I have been listening to too many horror podcasts and watching too much forensic files but I imagine myself, that I can I see every muscle fiber and I can feel how every little twist and turn of my body, like how the bones are interacting, how the muscles are interacting. And then with each movement I imagine how that is and how I almost over accentuate it sometimes because I like, I tend to go extra with everything I do and movement is not excluded from that.
Similarly, Morgan said:
think I tend to think of it as breaking it down to muscles, and ligaments and bones. I don’t really think of it as a whole so much. I think that just comes from a lot of ballet training. Like “oh this part needs to go this way and this part needs to go that way.” Not so much focusing on the image as a whole. I feel like I used to do that a whole lot when I was younger and it didn’t really help my technique as much. So breaking my body down into parts kind of helps me move a little easier.
Both women discussed thinking of their body part by part. Those parts work together to create a movement. Neither of them thought of the picture as a whole but instead visualized each mechanism that would ultimately create an image or movement. Their bodies are highly structured machines, where each screw and nail is focused on its particular job.
On the other hand Miguel and Oona explicitly said that their work aimed to create a specific energy in the space. They were not particularly concerned with the bodies on stage creating a picture but instead an environment. This energetic environment led them to discuss the dynamics between bodies instead of the visual conception of a singular body. Oona said that they try to bring a playfulness into the space for both the performers and the audience. They said:
I think I would say the work I have made and generated by myself I think is pretty experimental and silly in nature usually. I really enjoy exploring things that really elicit emotions in people that are usually like combinations of like laughing really hard and feeling really uncomfortable. So you saw, I don’t know if, I think you saw “Stools” my senior project. So like that particular project was, was an instinct, honestly that was an instinct and experiment. I was like these two people are really strong forces in my life and our dynamic is frickin’ fascinating to me and I really just want to trap it in a little genie bottle for a minute and like expose it to other people. And sort of that, like sort of, I really enjoyed capturing intense group dynamics. I really like intense group dynamics. So even, things like tag games. I really enjoy watching adults play tag. Stuff like that. I think there is a lot of, a lot to be learned, there’s always a lot to be learned from like putting people into play situations where the stakes are raised, you know, by being public. So I was say that that is a description of it, that I like, I really enjoy public, publizing play and group dynamic. And that can also be with the self, you can be by yourself. It can just be me on stage playing with aspects of myself or playing with my body or and creating dynamics that way to.
Results- Storytelling vs Energetic Spaces
The particular job of the body for both Natalie and Morgan was to communicate a story through dance. On performance Morgan said, “I like being a storyteller, I like having that power. Then I like how my story, like telephone, through my body gets interpreted by the audience into a whole manner of different things.” When also asked about her view of dance performance Natalie said, “what we’re doing creates a message separate from if any one of us was missing or if it was just one of us doing this piece. Like, all the movement works together to create a message.”
The use of narrative structures is a common one in ballet. Thus this concept of narratives and imagery comes from these women’s preference for making ballet work. Their compositional process includes both ballet movements as well as performance layout.
Oppositely Oona and Miguel used the dynamics in rehearsals to create specific energies for the performers and audience to experience together. Miguel did not specify the specific form of energy he sought to create in the space but he did say:
I have a kind of way of activating the space. But it’s rare that I am making like, presentational moves and right, it’s not like the movement is like “I am sad” therefore I will, this is my sad face or “I’m in love with you” so I gonna make an in love with you dance and it’s not that I don’t think that can happen or that that’s maybe an element of the thing but I guess for better or worse I have been very attached to the abstraction inherent in movement for me.
Neither of these participants said they sought to tell or communicate any form of narrative. They were much more concerned with the bodies in the space playing off of each other, and learning from those bodies and their energies. While they both said they had run rehearsals in the past where they came in with set ideas and movements to teach the performers they were not much interested in putting a narrative on top of those bodies with little to no input from the dancers they work with.
Results- Inessential Queer
Interestingly, all three of the non-binary identifying participants made it clear that they were not to be seen as the essential dancer or queer. Oona stated that they were afraid that their work would be read by the audience as the essential queer femme sexual experience. They said, “I’m often very conscious of not wanting to express myself as an ideal of sexuality. Or express myself as a singularity of sexuality or gender. And that, um, means a lot to me to not, to not be a cliché basically, or not create inaccurate myths about queerness in my work.”
Similarly Miguel discussed how he feared the essentializing nature of claiming something as a queer work. He said:
Well, I think, just the thing I always think about when I think about identity in performance and my own struggle with it is the essentializing nature of the question. And I mean, I’m as embedded in that as anyone else. And just somebody who is trying to think about these things in the context of dance performance. But when I step back and am hearing these questions and hearing myself talk, I’m just like, oh yeah, isn’t it interesting just the ways we look at what gets produced and what gets made possible by thinking about things in the terms of identity.
On the other hand Jessi was not afraid that they would be seen as the essential queer but as the essential dancer. They emphasized the dance world’s need to consider the experiences of dancers who are not white or thin- what they called the traditional dancer. They said:
I just think there needs to be an increased awareness of the dance community to dancers and members of that community that are not, that do not conform to the gender binary and that are not heterosexual or heteronormative. As well as awareness of the experiences of dancers of color or dancers who aren’t the stereotypical skinny girl. The dance community is really, really in need of some reform as to what the stereotypical dancer looks and expresses themselves as
While these three participants all emphasized their fear of being essentialized, the two cis identifying participants never brought this up. Neither did they speak about their place in the larger conversation on queer politics or dance critique which was a big reason for the fear of essentialization in the other participants. Yet, even though the larger political and critique based conversation was not explicitly brought up by Natalie or Morgan it was not entirely overlooked.
Results- Bodies as Preconceived Meanings
Both Natalie and Miguel discussed their awareness of how a body’s cultural inscriptions changed the way the audience viewed the work being performed. Natalie discussed having seen works with male and female partnering that were assumed by the audience to be sexual or romantic works. She said:
I find that, like you mentioned this with one of your pieces last year because there was a man and woman interacting on stage the audience automatically thinks of it as heterosexuality and they inherently ascribe a sexual meaning onto it because there are two people of the opposite gender on stage. Even though they may not necessarily by attracted to each other. Or their sexual identities may not fit, like one person may be gay, both people may be gay and may not be attracted to each other but the audience projects that heteronormativity onto it.
This assumption of heterosexuality made her uncomfortable and led her to prefer to be in and make work with women identified dancers and dancers who presented in more traditionally feminine ways. Miguel would have disagreed with her femme based fix for the situation. He stated that even if a work is supposed to be about one theme or idea the bodies put on stage would ultimately change the narrative, thus focusing on traditional femininity would have a backlash. He said:
There is no such thing as an abstract body, every body has a story to tell, every body has, is a story, that is telling. That complicated that and I started to think about what my own casting choices had been and what were the casting choices I was seeing in the community. And what does that say about identity? What does that say if, you know, I look at a dance piece by a young artist and everyone is like a twenty-four year old white girl what is that telling me about that person’s world and value system. And not in a malicious why but, they are like, “well dance is about war.” And I’m like it kinda looks like a dance about white girls and so, you what I mean, it’s kind of like, having the coming to Jesus moment with and being honest about confessing, putting bodies on stage, even if you don’t want them to, or even if in your mind you’re doing something else they already represent something. They represent something before you have even made it a fucking move.
Later he continued by saying:
What is the way in which the body is being deployed. What is the possibilities that is being afforded to that body? Is it meant to, is it, are those possibilities limited intentionally for a particular project or is the ethic of the piece about breaking past that. And again, it’s like, a body doesn’t become a body just cause you decide that it’s different than other bodies. It’s already, all bodies are specific. And so, I’m thinking about a project I am doing now, I won’t say the person’s name because I don’t know if they would consent to that. (laughs) To being named. But they are a person whose body is maybe not the traditional body for performance in dance and that person often after shows has people being like “oh my god, it’s so intense to see your body doing something.” And they’re like “this is my body. This is who I am. I’m not like, walking around being like, I’m gonna try and liberate people with my body today.”
Both participants discussed their discomfort with an audience’s preconceived notions of what a specific body means before that body ever hits the stage. Although, neither seem to have found a way to combat such an issue in a way that will not create another issue. This is definitely a complicated factor that all queer dance makers face.
Discussion- Rigidity and Fluidity in Compositional Styles
Morgan and Natalie both made it clear that they preferred to make work in their classical ballet training and that they had more traditional notions of femininity in dance. Morgan stated that her “soft, round” movements were feminine and that she chose not to use “stronger” masculine linked qualities, even though she was capable of it. She consciously linked the softness of traditionally femme labeled ballet movements with her representation of her femme identity. In the introduction of Queer Dance Croft mentions this type of assumption of gendered movement as problematic. On this she says:
When people assume, for instance, that men lift and women are lifted they forget it is training, not genitalia, that creates physiques in all there strengths and weaknesses. Too, these superficial ideas limit the relationships imagined, the choreographies made, and how classrooms can be inhabited (Croft, 2017).
Morgan’s personal representation of femininity was attached to her female identity as she consciously chose this form of representation in her movement style. Her repetitive use of these qualities over her more masculine “strength” formed an aspect of her identity as a female dancer. But this identity of cis woman as dancer was only capable of being formed due to this repetition. Her acceptance of traditional gender norms in movement reaffirmed the rigidity of her femme identity each time she performed it. In her article Imitation and Gender Subordination Judith Butler says, “For if the “I” is a site of repetition, that is, if the “I” only achieves the semblance of identity through a certain repetition of itself, then the I is always displaced by the very repetition” (Nicholson, 1997).
Natalie’s notion of traditional femininity in dance was less obvious as it stemmed from her discomfort not of queer femininity but of assumed cis male masculinity in dance. Its defining action on her identity did not come from a performative repetition of her femininity through movement creation but instead the producing repetition came from dancing with bodies like her own or those presumed to be like her own. As she identifies as a cis woman these bodies are thus inscribed with the same or similar label that she uses which creates a rigid divide between what bodies can be seen as feminine and masculine. Thus the movements of these dancers were inscribed with a femme coding that may not have been the performer’s intent.
This preference for both the classical structures of ballet and classical structures of what a feminine body looks like gives these two women a rigidity in regards to their feminine identity. Croft would argue that this would mean their work is limited by classical assumptions of gender in ballet. Even though both of these women work in narrative dance it would be a grand assumption to infer that all of their work would thus fall into traditional heterosexual narratives and that they inscribed fully rigid concepts of identity onto other performers. Natalie even brings up her discomfort with heterosexual inscription upon movement performance. So how can this dichotomy between her discomfort with heterosexual norms and her comfort with a seemingly traditional femininity be compatible?
Butler may say that these two opposing sides are not compatible but still important as they showcase not only the deep running influence of the heterosexual matrix but also how heterosexual identities influence the identities of queers. In her article Butler says:
It is important to recognize the ways in which heterosexual norms reappear within gay identities, to affirm that gay and lesbian identities are not only structured in part by dominant heterosexual frames, but they are not for the reason determined by them. They are running commentaries on those naturalized positions as well, parodic replays and resignifactions of precisely those heterosexual structures that would consign gay life to a discursive domains of unreality and unthinkability (Nicholson, 1997).
Thus the rigidity seen in these women’s feminine identity can be seen as a limiting force on the work they are creating. Yet, at the same time can be dissected by the artists and their audience to explore larger themes of heterosexual domination in both identity and dance. This rigidity may actual lead artists to explore new ways to open up fluidity in dance creation. It is also important to remind ourselves that the bodies performing this heteronormative femininity are still queer identified by the performer’s themselves which shifts the ideas of what a heterosexual passing body can be and what a queer identity can be. The use of traditionally feminine dance movements performed by queer bodies is itself a subversion of what traditional femininity is.
In contrast the non-binary identifying dancers expressed a lot of outward fluidity in both dance and identity. First off, each discussed a fluidity of their gender expression and understanding. Each of them described what C.J. Pascoe defines as gender maneuvering. “Gender maneuvering refers to the way groups act to manipulate the relations between masculinity and femininity as others commonly understand them” (Pascoe, 2007). Miguel discussed how his use of the word man incorporated aspects of expression that fall more into a traditional definition of androgyny while Jessi said they at times chose to use the term woman but only when it feels liberating for them. Each of these participants understood their gender not as something wholly outside traditional label definitions but as something that had the power to manipulate those labels and what those labels are able to encapsulate.
Butler in her book Gender Trouble makes a point that I find to be in an interesting relation with these participant’s language around their identity and their work in dance. She says,
This is not to say that any and all gendered possibilities are open, but that the boundaries of analysis suggest the limits of a discursively conditioned experience. These limits are always set within the terms of a hegemonic cultural discourse predicted on binary structures that appear as the language of universal rationality. Constraint is thus built into what that language constitutes as the imaginable domain of gender (Butler, 1990).
Butler makes the point that gender can be manipulated yet not all forms of manipulation are available because the minds creating them are stuck within a language of a gender binary. Yet, these dancers have all chosen to work in a form of dance- improvisation- where they have the ability to rearrange and manipulate dance outside of classical, heterosexual dance narratives and structures. Would this mean that they can thus create new possibilities in gender and sexual representation through movement if narrative is not the end goal? Butler would say no, because each of these participants were still raised in the constraints of the heterosexual matrix.
On the other hand Anne Cooper Albright may disagree. In her book she discusses how dance gives performers new avenues into representation. She says “Their work addresses the (dis)connections between physical bodies and their cultural identities, refiguring the relationship between the “eyes” of the audience and the “I’s” of the dancers in order to open up new ways of moving and being in the world” (Albright, 1997). She may argue that these dance maker’s use of improv and energetic spaces gives them opportunities not afforded to other forms of dance and thus the fluidity already evident in their discussion on identity will spill over into their movement representation in many ways. Dance brings the body outside of the traditional heteronormative realm of the imaginable by using the body in ways not seen in daily life. Thus queer dancers are already afforded more exploration outside of the intelligible and that opens up more gender possibilities than other representational forms. Dance may not open up an infinite amount of possibilities but more than previously assumed.
Discussion- Fear of Essentializing
Several participants brought up their place in the larger conversation of queer politics and representation. Each one stated that they did not want to be an essential representation of queerness and all brought up others in the community that must be considered. Oona clearly states that they do not want to produce any myths about queer sexuality. They are aware of what Butler calls juridical and productive power. She says, “Juridical power inevitably “produces” what it claims merely to represent; hence, politics must be concerned with this dual function of power: the juridical and the productive” (Butler, 1990).
Dance does not fall into the traditional definition of politics but does serve as a cultural and artistic representation. Thus it has the power to produce the identities that claim it as only their representation. Each of these participants fears of essentialization are valid and also show a larger awareness than that of their cis counterparts.
Butler says,“Universalistic claims are based on a common or shared epistemological standpoint, understood as the articulated consciousness or shared structures of oppression” (Butler, 1990). This quote brings to mind the rigid feminine identity that the cis participants displayed. They displayed an assumption of a shared consciousness with their fellow dancers and queers. Yet, the non-binary participants, who urged against essentializing experience, claimed that there is not one universal understanding or experience of queerness or of dance. This misunderstanding between the two groups is because cis identifying queers have been accepted as the essential queer in media for decades. Morgan and Natalie identify with a non-heteronormative sexuality yet their gender label and presentation have kept them within the realm of the imaginable in their heteronormative communities. While, the gender non-binary participants exist outside of that realm not only in performance but in their daily lives and have had to examine their place in the conversation more often and deeper than the cis participants.
Moral judgements about which group is the “better” queer will be made by the community at large but that is not of import here. What is of import to this study is how and why each of these people chose to dance and how that choice is itself a representation of queerness in dance. Croft says,“The ways power moves and takes hold in dancing can only be understood by attending to the vantage point from which one considers joining the dancing” (Croft, 2017).
Discussion- Bodies as Meaning Pre-staging
The theme emphasized by Natalie and Miguel was the need for awareness of a bodies cultural inscription before putting that body on stage. They emphasized not only the process of movement creation and performance of a body but the audience’s active understanding of that body. Both Miguel and Natalie said that a dance work cannot escape the inscriptions of the bodies performing. For example, Natalie’s fear of men and women on stage equating as heterosexual romance to the audience seems to her a fixed connotation.
Though, this rigid conception renders performers entirely passive. Albright says, “Bodies, while inscribed by social practices, are rarely passive receptacles of these structures. Lived in bodies strain at the seams of a culture’s ideological fabric. Inherently unstable, the body is always in a paradoxical process of becoming- and becoming undone” (Albright, 1997). Albright argues that bodies on stage are not robbed of their autonomy but are instead constantly maneuvering in and out of the cultural inscriptions put upon it. This maneuvering seems to be most impactful when we consider Albright’s next question. “What happens, then, when people who are already marginalized as being only their bodies enter an artform that is similarly positioned as physical, intuitive, emotional, and non intellectual?” (Albright, 1997).
Miguel’s interview seems to answer this question. He mentions another artist he is working with whose body is seen as a liberatory vessel by their audience. Yet, he makes clear that they are still a human who does not wake up and choose for their body to be someone else’s liberation. Their body is just their body. Miguel’s initial comments seem to denote a performing body as totally passive to the audience’s interpretive gaze. Yet, as he continues he makes it clear that maneuvering is still possible when that body remembers that it cannot be rendered inhuman by the audience’s gaze in its own mind. Albright also reminds us of this with, “We must be willing to talk about the body’s sensations, kinesthetic impressions, emotional reactions, and physical comportment as well as its historically and culturally inflected signification” (Albright, 1997). She reminds us that dance as an art creates a dynamic relationship between those watching and interpreting and those being watched. She says:
The physical presence of the dancer- the aliveness of her body- radically challenges the implicit power dynamic of any gaze, for there is always the very real possibility that she will look back! Even if the dancer doesn’t literally return the gaze of the spectator, her ability to present her own experience can radically change the spectatorial dynamic of the performance (Albright, 1997).
Three conclusions can be drawn from these interviews. The first being that the cis participants had a more rigid conception of their feminine identity and chose to work in more structured dance forms. While their non-binary counterparts had a much more fluid relationship to their gender labels and understandings and they chose to work in less structured modes of movement creation. The second conclusion is that on-binary dancers are more aware of how their work fits into larger queer conversations. The third conclusion is that dance as an art form gives artists new ways to maneuver through cultural inscriptions to create new ways of performing gender, sexuality and living as a queer body. Croft explains it nicely:
Queer is a wide-ranging set of notions and practices that collide: a state of conflicting, generative modes of existence. Dance, with its poetic porosity and generative failure to convey direct meaning, engages productivity and provocatively with queer’s slippery, shape shifting sensibility. Bodies never do one thing or mean one thing. By embracing messy, heterogeneous, even possibly contradictory queer dance forges community, not in spite of, but through and with challenges and contradictions (Croft, 2017).
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. Routledge. New York. 1990
Pascoe, C.J. Dude You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. University of
California Press. 2007.
Albright, Anne, C. Choreographing Difference: The Body and Identity in Contemporary Dance.
Wesleyan University Press. New Hampshire. 1997.
Croft, Clare. Queer Dance: Meanings and Makings. Oxford University Press. 2017.
Nicholson, Linda. The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory. Routledge. New York. 1997.