Meet seven queer dancers putting the moves on Atlanta

Whatever makes being queer align so often with artistry and queerness, it’s an undeniably frequent combination. When it manifests through us with our own bodies as the instruments, it’s a special kind magic, and it’s something the rest of us can enjoy as much as the creators themselves.

For Q’s latest photo essay on factions of LGBTQ Atlanta, contributor Jon Dean focuses his lens on seven local talents making moves in dance styles from contemporary to classic and beyond. They also get up close and personal about their lives and careers.

All photos by Jon Dean

 

 

 

JOHN JAMES

 

@johnjamesatl

Dance Specialties

Commercial Hip Hop, Street Jazz and Burlesque

How did you get started?

I’ve always loved music and dancing, but I took my first dance class at 21years old and immediately fell in love.

Where can we see you perform?

Every month at “ICON: A Celebration,” and I teach Hip Hop classes every Wednesday night at Dance 101 Atlanta.

How does the Atlanta dance community differ from other cities?

The energy and “groove” embedded in our movement. Just like a Southern accent, you can count on an Atlanta dancer bringing feeling and the highest level of entertainment in their movement. That’s something you can’t always find in other cities or circles.

How does your queer identity influence your approach to dance?

I hit the stage to entertain those who come to experience inclusion, fun, and an overall feeling of love. No judgment, no pressure. Not to mention adding a little sexiness and mystery.

 

ALEX ABARCA

@aabarca3

Dance Specialties

Contemporary. I feel proficient in most other forms, but mainly consider myself a contemporary dancer.

How did you get started?

Well, long story is that I started dancing in my grandmother’s living room at family parties around the age of 6. I started taking dance class when I was 14, but didn’t start training seriously until I was 20.

Where can we see you perform?

I just got back from San Diego performing a solo I created, and I’m in the studio working on some new material.

How does the Atlanta dance community differ from other cities?

Having lived in Houston and NYC, Atlanta is a nice middle ground where I can continue to find my own way as an independent dance-artist, in accordance with my own interests and rules.

How does your queer identity influence your approach to dance?

My queer identity is very closely linked to my dancing and movement. I cannot divorce myself from the fact that I walk a fine line between masculine and feminine. I love not being bound by conventions of gender when I dance.

 

KRISTINA BROWN

@kristinabrownie

Dance Specialty

Contemporary

How did you get started?

I started dancing when I was 3, and my mom put me in tap and ballet classes. She just wanted a picture of her toddler in a tutu, and she never knew she was laying the groundwork for my lifelong career as an artist.

Where can we see you perform?

I’m currently a moving artist with glo, so you can find all of our upcoming work at gloatl.org.

How does the Atlanta dance community differ from other cities?

Atlanta is a city full of artists who have had to build themselves with very little support. Unlike LA or Chicago or New York, Atlanta doesn’t have a lot of funding structures or accessible platforms and institutions for presenting work, so up-and-coming dancers and choreographers really have to build themselves in this city. It really lends itself to collaboration and manifests as possibility. But it takes persistence, and unwavering commitment.

How does your queer identity influence your approach to dance?

It allows me to hone in on sensation and the experience of movement, rather than filling specific traditional roles or worrying about being pretty. I get to experiment with the body moving, and play with both masculine and feminine energies.

 

PATRICK OTSUKI

@genevablaus

Dance Specialty

Modern Contemporary. It attracts so many artists because it is boundless; free of a formal overarching movement vocabulary.

How did you get started?
I'm a late-in-life dancer. Embarrassingly, I was inspired by Natalie Portman in Black Swan and took the plunge, with the encouragement of a dear friend, into collegiate dance classes at the ripe age of 21. I have been obsessed with dance since, taking contemporary modern, ballet, jazz, and company classes at Emory University.

Where can we see you perform?

I'm a member of the newly founded ImmerseATL under the direction of Atlanta Ballet Mistress Sarah Hillmer. Our season is coming to a close having just collaborated with Staibdance's production of the Rite of Spring. I'm also a drag performer who has performed for several years at shows like Brigitte Bidet's Tossed Salad and who occasionally performs at Mary's where I was crowned Miss Glitz 2016.

How does the Atlanta dance community differ from other cities?

Atlanta is a special place for dance. Programs at Emory, KSU, UGA, Spelman, and the Atlanta Ballet feed talented artists into the city constantly, while other artists migrate to Atlanta from prestigious programs at FSU, UF. New York City is no longer the only city that can offer a dancer a career.

How does your queer identity influence your approach to dance?

My queerness is inextricably bound to my dance life. I began dance and drag simultaneously. My success as a late-in-life dancer is deeply influenced by my work as a drag performer. … I have grown a certain appreciation and aptitude for performance quality. The best drag performers create strong connections with their audiences, and that’s a skill choreographers appreciate and enjoy working with. The realization of my queerness also helped me create a relation with and appreciation of my body.

 

CORIAN ELLISOR

@cel1984

Dance Specialties

Contemporary with an emphasis in Storytelling

How did you get started?

I started dancing at a small studio in Spring, Texas when I was 13. It was one of those all-in-one dance, cheer, gymnastics and baton twirling places. I attended for a few years, but wasn't really into it so I quit. I picked back up dance in college while I was trying to figure out my major.

Where can we see you perform?

You can see me host Rupaul's Drag Race every Thursday at Mary's. You can also see me the first Saturday every month at Mary's for Gurlfrandz. I teach a contemporary dance adult class every Wednesday at Callanwolde Fine Art Center.

How does the Atlanta dance community differ from other cities?

It’s been great for me because it allows me to do anything that I want. I’ve had the opportunity to create and be seen in conventional and nonconventional spaces. It’s also very interdisciplinary, which helps cross promote and allows people from different mediums to work together.

How does your queer identity influence your approach to dance?

It’s shown more recently in my fusion of dance and drag. I just finished my thesis performance for my MFA at George Washington University. I used drag and dance to explain my struggles through the current social and political climate.

 

Hez Stalcup

Dance Specialties

Experimental and Contemporary

How did you get started?

I started loving dance as a kid in the ‘80s. I still have a special place in my heart for a impromptu mass ensemble of dancers, as was typical in many movies at the time, where regular citizens of the city are in the uniforms of their daily life -  a baker, a nurse, a mailman, a business man flourishing his briefcase - are all suddenly called to coordinate seemingly out of nowhere. I think this was secretly what I thought New York was like all the time.

I always wanted to dance and make dances but spent my childhood and early adulthood being course driven by religion. After that changed in my 20s, it was hard for me to imagine access into what seemed to be a body prescriptive community. What I needed was a moment of shamelessness, which came unexpectedly when my Mom was dying.

Being in that process with her allowed me to stop caring and just want something. Nothing matters except what really matters to you alone when you are losing someone. And I found that I just really wanted to dance.

So l Late to the game in my mid 30s, I went to as many dance performances and events as I could find, watched documentaries about dance, read books and journals, tried my best to play rabid catch up in a field that I had no personal frame of reference to, except for the personal.

I was lucky enough to find a lot of supportive teachers, colleagues and curators who wanted me to get the best from an unconventional entry, including a rare dance platform that allowed the work of new choreographers to be shown. I will be forever grateful and in awe of the generosity I experienced.

Honestly, I started choreographing because I thought there was no way anyone else would put me in a piece!

But of course, by then I was in love with the medium, and knew that there was some way I had something smart to say that had nothing to do with training and everything to do with gathering ideas and truth from a life lived. That the creative eye is always building, the unique eye that you alone have, that belief allowed me to keep making, evergreen and oddly.

I think I became a choreographer because I just kept showing up. And so I’ve been choreographing and performing for the last 5 years.

Where can we see you perform?

I will be performing for the incredibly talented choreographer, and current Walthall Fellow Anicka Austin in the premiere of her upcoming piece “Sanctuaries and Fortresses,” which shows at the Bakery May 17 - 20.

How does the Atlanta dance community differ from other cities?

Atlanta is a burgeoning dance city, without the set models and infrastructure of dance that exists in it’s contemporaries. I feel that the boon is to see a lot of artists experimenting and collaborating because invention is in most cases necessary and vital. When as an artist, you don’t have access to a system designed to support your medium through traditional methods, you have to create things on the fly and in a much more DIY mood than you might need to in, say, NY or LA for example. , where dancers and choreographers migrate to the already existing structures to be inside of them, not necessarily to reinvent or defy them. In Atlanta I see this experimental format in the work and processes of my colleagues as I myself create my work this way.

The danger of course is in being so self made that your identity as an established professional can feel too impermanent, especially as dance is already an art form based in the ephemeral. It can feel as though you’re making the world around you anew each day, as often you yourself are declaring what is a studio and what is a stage. And while this can prove to be an athletic and elusive way to live, the constant world building also calls for specific creative generation, always asking for refreshed attention and your own honest resolve and reasons to dance.

How does your queer identity influence your approach to dance?

Having an ephemeral identity as a trans person who refuses to stop being masculine or feminine, as well as working in an ephemeral field on top of that, I find I am reliant if not dependent on invention for every part of my life.

It reminds me of how I was just getting re-enamored of some old Prince footage and was drawn to how constantly revelatory it is to see someone’s body in celebration of itself. It is a deeply joyful and moving action.

I am left with getting down to brass tacks: I move my body because I can, I am on stage because I stepped onto it. There may be no tangible reward for this, my friends may be the only ones in attendance. And so it tasks the soul to ask, is there deep illicit joy in some part of my work, the kind that makes you feel dirty and holy all at once? I see the meter of my elders who would sacrifice no aspect of gender - can I say Prince one more time - or thread of dignity in their choices to create rigorous and tender work, based purely on the self’s determination to individuate.

I think this itself is an art form. Not the body designed to be anonymous by the technique, but the body of you translating and transforming the technique. The dance that comes from the choices of the odd, unique, anomalous mind.

 

 

JOSHUA RACKLIFFE

@brigittebidet

Dance Specialty

Contemporary

How did you get started?

During my second year of acting school, I had a teacher tell me that I had "zero awareness of my body" and he couldn't stand watching me, so I had an existential oh-shit moment and decided to focus on learning how to dance. The school I went to, Columbia College Chicago, has an amazing Dance curriculum, and it gave me a crash course on get started as a dance artist.

Where can we see you perform?

I'm currently working as a full-time company member and Dance Artist with Core Dance. We are known for presenting new and original work both locally and abroad. [For more information, visit coredance.org]

How does the Atlanta dance community differ from other cities?

There's a strong community of independent art makers who produce work by themselves and with other choreographers in town. The cost of living is lower than other cities, and there's a good amount of space that isn't being used, making it perfect for up-and-coming dancers to show their work. This is a place where someone with good ideas can thrive.

How does your queer identity influence your approach to dance?

It helps amplify my own voice. I can call out to others who share my experiences, and we can come together through art and relate to each other. Not feeling masculine at the clubs is why I started doing drag, and I've been asked a few different times to bring that to the table with choreographers that I work with. The two identities feed each other, and will hopefully help me continue to grow.

This article originally ran in Q magazine. Read the digital verson below, and pick us up around Atlanta each week.