By Matt Kailey
Sean Dorsey is an award-winning
choreographer, dancer and writer. Recognized as the United States’ first
out transgender modern dance choreographer, Dorsey has won audiences
and accolades from San Francisco to New York with his powerful
dance-theater. Dorsey is the founder and Artistic Director of Fresh Meat
Productions, the first U.S. non-profit dedicated to the year-round creation, presentation, and touring of transgender arts.
Matt Kailey: How did you get interested in dance and choreography?
Sean Dorsey: I
have always loved dance and movement. I spent a lot of time twirling
around my living room in my leotard, dancing to records as a kid. I
didn’t grow up at the ballet barre, though – I came to dance “late,” and
didn’t start my professional dance training until I was 25. When I did
start, though, I hit the ground running!
MK: Did you become a
professional dancer and choreographer prior to your transition? If so,
how did your transition affect your career? If not, did you enter the
profession as an out trans person?
SD: I started
my dance training prior to my physical transition, but I was trans and
queer identified. Changing rooms and gendered movement in dance were
very challenging, painful. I would do everything I could to avoid using
bathrooms or changing rooms, even once I started dancing professionally.
It was hard. I didn’t know a single
trans dancer in the world, had never heard of a single one. I became
very driven to create space in dance for transgender and queer people –
both through my choreographic work, and by founding Fresh Meat
Productions (the nation’s first nonprofit to create, present and tour
year-round transgender arts programs, including our resident dance
company Sean Dorsey Dance).
MK: Do you think that being an
out trans person has hurt or helped your career overall and in what
ways? How are you and your shows perceived/accepted by non-trans,
have been plenty of painful parts about coming into the dance world as a
transgender person – but I feel very, very blessed to be transgender.
It really is an enormous blessing to be a trans person.
In terms of my shows, I have had totally
a positive response from both LGBT and straight audiences, from trans
and non-trans people alike. I have trans and queer people come up to me
after shows, saying they were in tears during the show, that they were
so moved, or that they’d NEVER seen themselves onstage, in dance before.
I’m blessed that my shows tend to draw
sold-out audiences – and my audiences are this AMAZING mix of people
that you’d NEVER see in one room together normally: transgender people,
mainstream dance-goers, lesbians, gay men, seniors, youth, activists,
theater-lovers. I’m proud of my work, and I’m proud of my audiences!
There’s activism in bringing those people together into a room, into
MK: You have also worked on this LGBT Elders Oral History Project, upon which your current show is based,
for two years. Did you start the project with the idea of turning it
into a show, or were these two very different things (your choreography
and the history project) that just converged?
inspiration for the show came first. I am passionate about uncovering
and sharing transgender and LGBT history. Our lives get left out of
mainstream history books and family albums. It’s critical that we
celebrate, document and share our history, or our lives and struggles
and accomplishments will be lost.
I knew I wanted to make a show about how
on earth LGBT people managed to survive and find love and community and
relationships in decades past, long before Stonewall. I wanted to go to
the source, to talk to elders and ask them how they did it. And so my
LGBT Elders Oral History Project was born.
I spent two years talking to
transgender, lesbian and gay elders across the U.S. – asking them about
their first crushes, their first loves, coming out and living as LGBT in
the earlier decades of this century. And you hear these elders’ own
voices and real-life stories in the show. It’s very powerful.
I also did a ton of reading and archival
research – getting my hands on real-life love letters, handbills for
speakeasies from the 1920s, a cocktail napkin with a love note and phone
number written on it from the 1950s. I read hundreds of love letters
going back decades, centuries even.
MK: What would you like to say about your show, The Secret History Of Love?
SD: The Secret History Of Love
reveals the underground ways that LGBT people managed to survive and
love each other in decades past. I created the show through the two-year
National LGBT Elders Oral History Project.
The Secret History Of Love
features the voices and life stories I recorded in these oral history
interviews – along with powerful, moving and hilarious episodes from the
LGBT community’s remarkable history of finding love and community
against enormous odds. Everything from 1920s speakeasies to wartime love
affairs to police raids to steamy underground cabarets and more,
performed by my company with special musical guest Shawna Virago (a brilliant trans woman singer-songwriter).
Over the next two years, we’re taking
the show on a 20-city national tour: Philadelphia, San Antonio, Tampa,
Claremont, Chico, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and more.
The Secret History Of Love is a
very powerful show – it features full-throttle dancing, riveting
storytelling, luscious partnering and first-hand tales of tremendous
risk, passionate love, impossible courage, heartbreaking loss, and bold
resistance – revealing the great resiliency and strength of the human
heart, even in the face of great danger and devastating violence.
People can see where we’re touring next at www.seandorseydance.com/calendar.
MK: What other projects are you working on now?
SD: I’m starting work on my next project, The Missing Generation and The Source Of Joy.
The work will explore the contemporary impact of the loss of part of an
entire generation of LGBT people to AIDS during the 1980s. I will
create the work in five cities across the U.S., through a LGBT
Inter-Generational Oral History Project and extensive archival research.
It’s big and intense and emotional, and
we’re just jumping in now – along with our partner theaters in San
Francisco, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Lewiston and Tampa. We’ll premiere
Part One of the show in March 2014 in San Francisco, and the full world
premiere in 2015. I’ll keep you posted!
People can join my email list at www.seandorseydance.com to get updates about my work and where we’re touring next!
This post originally appeared on Matt Kailey's award-winning website Tranifesto.com. Republished with permission.