Photo credit: Photo by Olivia Moon Photography, Boston Center for the Arts, 2019. Dress design by Heidi Henderson, Performed with Naoe Suzuki (L) and Ann Fonte (R)
My grandmother and I were only ever on the same page when we were watching the Golden Girls. All the rest of the time we didn't know what to make of each other - what to do with each other. Babysitting, she'd put me on the living room carpet and have me roll her pennies. Her living room had acquired a stale yellow patina from a lifetime of smoking butts indoors. (Lots of us, on both sides of my family smoke butts, at least now and again. But my Grandmother was the only one of us to swallow, as if hungry for it, then exhale out the nose like a dragon with a perm.) Lots of us, on both sides of my family hail from land currently called Lowell, Massachusetts, but my grandmother was third generation Lowell on both sides (incidentally, I am fifth generation Lowell on both sides): a circumstance that could easily lead a person to think they were "native to" the place, rather than a settler on Pennacook land.
My Grandmother started asking me if I had a girlfriend yet from the time I was about 12, and never stopped asking until she died at 82, when I was 28. By the time I was 15, there was nobody else who didn't know about me. ("Do yourself a favor," her daughter-in-law said, "and wait it out.") Studying dance in lieu of gym class at Lowell High School, I learned about Alvin Ailey, Bob Fosse, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey... I decided I could, at least come out to her about that.
Baby picture, sailor suit
"Your Grandfather was a good dancer," she replied.
And there we found ourselves. She, perched on the couch beside her ashtray,
me on the living room carpet, blinking: neither one of us having the vaguest idea
what the other was talking about. Of course, what she meant was ballroom dancing,
a kind I'd never thought about before. I wonder at the things I might
have learned from Grandma if we'd have danced a Foxtrot together, smoked
a cigarette. If we'd known how to care for one another.
Photo by SHORT photo co, The Dance Complex, 2017
Mara & Michael
Photo by David Neitz
My practice is informed by several movement modalities, including social partner dance. As a ballroom dancer, my pedagogy is grounded in a gender-expansive, non-hierarchical approach. This work has been deeply informed over the past five years, dancing with elders in my community. (While there are too many to name here, in this space, I will give a shout out to Kay: with whom I first realized the value of switching from lead to follow without having to talk about it.) Through this practice, dance not only provides an opportunity to connect with one another, it sparks memories, which are made manifest through the dance, and also through the stories we tell each other while dancing.
As an interdisciplinary artist, I am curious about the ways that memory shapes identity and a sense of self; how caring for self means treating memories with care; and what exactly do we mean by "memory care"?
Image by Angelina Benitez
Elsie & Michael
Photo by Lissa Magee
As a solo performer, I blend movement, memoir, and (often) video projection of home movies from when I was a kid. Through this practice, my present reality is juxtaposed against flickering images from a time when the essential facts of my personhood were inaccessible to me. As a dance presenter, I aim to co-create opportunities for queer dance and performance artists to develop and present work alongside one another, and in community. I remain curious about the possibilities that performance can unlock, in the ongoing fight for queer liberation; and how the work of advancing queer futures intersects with decolonial methodology and solidarity strategies.
While I often talk about the different branches of my practice as distinct, they are also distinctly interwoven. And evolving in an ongoing effort to do myself a favor.
Photo by Olivia Moon Photography, The Dance Complex, 2019
Robbie, Jack, Michael, Mara
Photo Booth, Salisbury Beach
Photo below by SHORT photo co, The Dance Complex, 2017