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Trying to find Dance Historical past’s Queer Ladies? Begin Right here

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Within the November 2023 challenge of Dance Journal, dancer and educator Samm Wesler asks: The place are dance historical past’s queer girls? Right here’s a response from dance artist, educator, and former Dance Journal editor in chief Wendy Perron.

It’s true: Lesbians in dance historical past haven’t been as seen as homosexual males. It hasn’t been as open a secret as with the male dancers you identify. In our subject, homosexual males are extra prevalent and extra accepted—it beats me which got here first.

Perron—wearing a dark top, flowing pants and sneakers—is seen in profile, with her hands raised to her chest and her head thrown back, eyes closed.
Wendy Perron in her solo “Huge Canine” at Danspace, 1978. Photograph by Richard L. Goldstein, courtesy Perron.

As a dancer who recognized as a lesbian for a five-year chunk of my previous life, I’ve watched how attitudes have modified. Sara Wolf wrote in a 2003 article titled “Lesbian Choreographers Redefine Movement” that “previous to Stonewall, the cutting-edge downtown dance scene was not open or hospitable to lesbians.” However even after Stonewall, it took girls longer than males to come back out.

In 2011, dancer-choreographer Pat Catterson wrote an essay in Angle titled “Can You Inform I Am a Lesbian Once I Dance?” She mainly spent the primary 30 years as a dance artist hiding her identification. “I wished to remain within the closet professionally,” she wrote. “I didn’t assume it will be advantageous to my profession to speak about it. . . . Partly it’s that we select to be invisible. Homosexual males in dance don’t. Visibility is probably extra of a legal responsibility for us.”

Perhaps it’s only a matter of numbers—{that a} sure mass is important earlier than there could be a sense of neighborhood. It appears that evidently queer girls dancers are usually remoted, whereas homosexual males dancers are a part of a social swirl.

Your query was about queer girls in dance historical past, so let’s return. The American Loie Fuller, barely older than Isadora Duncan, took Paris by storm within the Nineties, not by exhibiting her physique, however by protecting up her physique with unbelievable imagery—a lily, a butterfly, a flame. Thought of one of many moms of recent dance, she invented lighting gadgets that, together with yards and yards of silk, created these photographs as a shocking theatrical coup. She had a long-term relationship with a girl; in Dancing Ladies: Feminine Our bodies On Stage, Sally Banes describes La Loïe as an brazenly figuring out lesbian. (For a deeper dive into Fuller’s sexuality and the encompassing homophobia, see Ann Cooper Albright’s ebook Traces of Gentle: Absence and Presence within the Work of Loïe Fuller.)

Jill Johnston, the renegade Village Voice dance critic of the Sixties, was out, very far out. Her assortment of dance critiques, titled Marmalade Me, is crucial studying for anybody who needs to grasp the rebellious Judson Dance Theater. Staging her personal riot, across the identical time because the Stonewall Riots, she shifted from writing dance critiques to writing essays about queer girls, which had been gathered in her 1973 ebook, Lesbian Nation: The Feminist Resolution. (We’ll all have the ability to learn extra of her writing subsequent 12 months, when Duke College Press will publish a brand new assortment of Johnston’s writings—edited by Clare Croft, whom you talked about.)

The Wallflower Order Dance Collective, a feminist troupe shaped in 1975, morphed into the Dance Brigade a decade later. They’re a mixture of homosexual and straight girls in San Francisco’s Mission District. Co-founder Krissy Keefer is quoted as saying, in this 2011 article by Keith Hennessy, that they had been in all probability the primary dance firm “to specific express lesbian sensibilities and considerations.”

The feminist Seventies introduced out Pat Graney, a Seattle choreographer dedicated to social justice points. She is out and devoted to supporting the lesbian neighborhood. She mentored many dancers, together with Gina Gibney, the choreographer and entrepreneur who created the Gibney areas which have achieved a lot for the New York Metropolis dance neighborhood. In 2016, Out journal named Gina Gibney certainly one of its OUT100.

Within the Eighties, issues began getting extra fascinating. A gaggle of downtown Manhattan dancers together with Lucy Sexton, Jennifer Monson, and Jennifer Miller had been gloriously frank about their sexuality. I bear in mind, within the mid-Eighties, Johanna Boyce’s Ties That Bind, that includes a phenomenal duet wherein Miller and Susan Seizer talked brazenly about their relationship in a humorous, poignant means. A long time later, in 2007, at a Motion Analysis gala honoring Yvonne Rainer at Judson Memorial Church, Monson and DD Dorvillier immediately dashed to the altar for an impromptu, outrageously caressing makeout session. That was simply the tip of the iceberg of Monson and Dorvillier’s lengthy, wild experience as rambunctiously out lesbian dancemakers.

(A facet observe: You additionally requested, “Why, after I realized about Yvonne Rainer, was her sexuality by no means talked about?” The reason being in all probability that she was in heterosexual relationships throughout the time she was making historical past together with her ground-breaking danceworks of the Sixties. It was solely round 1990, whereas making feminist movies, that she developed a relationship with one other lady.)

I believe the brand new acceptance of lesbian artists is partly because of the shift from trendy dance to postmodern: Choreographers within the latter mode are usually much less gendered. Whereas the portrayal of girls in Graham, Limón, and Ailey was at all times pretty conventional, the gender presentation of postmodern choreographers like Trisha Brown, Invoice T. Jones, Mark Morris, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar are much less gendered (or, moderately, multi-gendered), subsequently extra prone to entice homosexual girls. Not solely is the presentation of girls much less femmy in postmodern dance, however there’s much less dramatic pressure between women and men. I believe that is additionally true in present variations of faucet and flamenco.

In her 2003 article, Wolf contends that lesbian dancemakers “re-conceptualize the feminine physique in movement.” Living proof: Elizabeth Streb, whose slam-bam athletics transcend gender expectations. “Whenever you’re out of that field, it permits you to escape in different methods, make totally different selections, ask different questions,” Streb informed Wolf. “You’re far more in a position to discard the instruments which have already been invented.”

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