Dallas — More than a week after the tragedy at Pulse in Orlando, I’m still struggling to find the words to encapsulate my feelings. As a dancer, I am reminded that the world doesn’t share my industry’s view of inclusion. I was heartbroken and horrified last Sunday, and I am still constantly frightened for the LGBTQ community across the globe. The people of Orlando lost their sense of safety on June 12—a sense of safety that is continually fought for and rebuilt.
Pulse is an LGBTQ-friendly space in Orlando. It was opened in 2004 by Barbara Poma and Ron Legler, dedicated to Barbara’s brother John, who died of AIDS. Pulse was named symbolically to keep John’s pulse alive. For many who are regulars at Pulse, or for those whose first time it is to enter the doors and feel the pounding music through their feet vibrating in their hearts, Pulse is a paradise. It is a place where they can be themselves. It is a place where they can escape. It is their home away from home. Richard Kim from The Nation says it so eloquently, “gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression. They take sound and fabric and flesh from the ordinary world, [and] transform it all into something that scrapes up against utopia.” Pulse was opened in acknowledgement of the transformative, inclusive power of dance and celebration. And this was the very power that was attacked.
We all have that one club that we call our “spot.” The place we go to get down with our friends, to join Kylie, P!nk, Brit, or Cher in song, at the top of our lungs, and to cheer our friends on as they compete in a drag pageant and gag over their immaculate gowns. We go to those places full of joy and completely carefree, just ready to have some fun, without a second thought to who else is there with us, and if anyone would want to hurt us. It is the dancing that calls us forth and brings us all together. It unifies us; we don’t need to talk about the days’ events, what is going on in the world, who we came with, who we might be leaving with, or who we are loving on. We just dance. We feel the music and form the connection between our bodies and souls. Dance releases tension and calms the brain; it quiets the noise in our heads and hearts, and release endorphins that allow us to actually see clearly for (maybe) the first time ever. For when we are dancing, gender and sexuality do not matter. All that matters is the rhythm and the beat. It is a universal language. It is a safety that has been built by a history of community and awareness.
Here in Dallas, the response to Orlando has been powerful. Hundreds of people gathered off Oak Lawn to mourn the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and to support the survivors; they also came out to support the community that is their family. People representing all of Dallas peacefully marched side-by-side, and joined together in love and celebration for the continuation of life. People lined up to donate their blood for the victims in Orlando. People are banding together to create their own ways of dealing with and understanding the tragedy. Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban even donated one million dollars to the Dallas Police Department to provide, among other things, 16,000 hours of overtime to enhance the police presence in the beautiful Oak Lawn neighborhood.
This response should be celebrated, but additionally we should encourage one another to continue this response, and fold this response into our habits. In the dance industry, the inclusion of LGBTQ people is often taken for granted. Safety within the dance community is a privilege, and should be acknowledged as such. Many fields of study and expression have lingering structures of exclusion, which are difficult to challenge and correct. If we can do nothing else, we must accept that this privilege exists.
A week before the shooting, I had the privilege to choreograph a wedding proposal for a dear friend, DeAndré Upshaw. He wanted to create a momentous moment that his boyfriend, Stuart Hausmann, would never forget, so he gathered together their families, their friends, and I brought in 15 of my dancers, and over the course of four months we created an epic production to celebrate their love. On the day of, 50 of us gathered together and witnessed one of the most beautiful moments of pure love and joy that I have ever experienced. What I really took away from this experience was something convicting that Upshaw echoed to the Houston Chronicle: “At the end when we kissed is the first time I've ever kissed him in public,” Upshaw said. “The only other place we have been able to do that, is at gay clubs. The best way to honor the Orlando tragedy is to be visible and be in the forefront of our cause and the world’s cause of being inclusive and accepting.” While I have known DeAndré for years, it has always been in the context of creativity and art. It is a privilege that I could share in his love, that through dance, I could be part of his engagement. (Video below.)
It was the evening of June 12, the same day as the Orlando shooting, we went out to celebrate their engagement. Just as they would have in clubs like Pulse, the happy couple was surrounded by friends who love them, and we all felt safe in our bodies and safe in our choices. We joined together to celebrate life and love on a skating rink (our dance floor for the evening), and under the spinning disco balls with Tegan and Sara and Beyoncé belting it out over the speakers—it was the reminder that there are good people in this world, and that their medium is dance.
As dancers, there is a great and delicate responsibility to understand the power of our work. We should take the time to realize how vital it is to include those that seek creative asylum within our studios. As many dance educators have witnessed over their careers, the expression and identity found in the studio is transformative and affirming for young artists. There are many people, including those who lash out against the LGBTQ community, who have never experienced the level of expression. Through gratitude and communication, we should strive to highlight this element of dance education for dancers and audiences alike.
In larger cities like Dallas, it is dangerously easy for young artists to perceive the world of dance as indicative of attitudes outside in the world. We should provide healthy perspectives of what we are working to create culturally. It is this awareness and education that will prepare young artists to promote inclusion and safety in other areas of their lives.
At Bruce Wood Dance Project’s SIX, this last weekend, the audience was exposed to beautiful explorations of trust, relationships, and humanness. For a new dance audience member, the work would have been something incredible to behold. As Bruce Wood wrote himself, quoted in the program, when you go to the theater, there should be an expectation of transformation. “I expect that when the curtain finally goes up, you should experience something quite remarkable, something magical, something healing.” Beyond the transformative dance featured that evening, this simple perspective on the purpose of dance is something worth the price of admission. And furthermore, this reminder should be the directive for companies seeking a response to tragedy: Create, create, you Dallas dancers, in order to dazzle, in order to mystify, and ultimately, and possibly most importantly, to heal.
» There have been more articles released this last week questioning and working to preserve the safety that so many people have found on the dance floor, like this one from The New York Times, this one from The Daily Beast, and this one from Elle that resonated deeply with me: “To All The Straight Women Who Love Gay Men: Your Safe Space Is No Longer Their Safe Space.”
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears on the third Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
Previous columns are:
- February 2014: Cash Choreography
- March 2014: Make the Fringe Your Future
- April 2014: Don't Freak Out, It's Just an Audition
- May 2014: You Love Dance. You're Not Alone
- June 2014: Persevering Through Movement
- July 2014: Sharing in Success
- August 2014: To the Barre
- September 2014: Method Act
- October 2014: Fear of Flying
- December 2014: The Editor Dance
- January 2015: Community Relations
- February 2015: The Fabric of Movement
- March 2015: State of the Dance
- April 2015: The Dance Mom Complex
- May 2015: Who Wants to Date a Dancer?
- June 2015: Figuring How Men Fit In
- August 2015: Creative Economy
- September 2015: Dancing to Learn
- October 2015: Whose Idea Is It Anyway?
- December 2015: '15 Going on '16
- January 2016: In Memoriam
- Februrary 2016: The Politics of Dancing
- March 2016: No column
- April 2016: Defining Dance Theatre
- May 2016: No column