Comment: A safe space to dance for transgender youth

Rachel Sparks June 12, 2012
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Unlike many young people I have a lifetime’s experience of dance. As a child I learned Ballet, Disco, Latin and Ballroom dancing. I performed in shows and entered numerous competitions. In my adolescence I took up Modern, Tap and Jazz and studied the history of dance at school whilst developing a skill for choreographing contemporary dance. I graduated with Dance BA (Hons) at  University of Leeds and I now work as a Helpline Officer for a young person’s helpline, as well as developing dance projects for the LGBTQ community.

In my experience, dancing can help us develop a positive relationship with the body, boost self-esteem and confidence. As well as being a physical work-out and an expression of ourselves, I also strongly believe that dancing is beneficial regardless of how well you think you dance. My philosophy is to dance for the sake of it, not for the benefit of anyone else. That is why I have developed a project with Gendered Intelligence  offering my experience as a dance facilitator to a group of Trans and Queer and LGB young people. The aim of the project is to create a safe space to explore the body and enjoy expression of self through dance.

Gendered Intelligence is a community interest company that runs arts programmes, creative workshops, and trans youth group sessions that looks to engage people in debates about gender.  They work predominantly within young people’s settings and have educative aims.

Gendered Intelligence believe the arts is an amazing tool for sharing our stories, to platform our voices and building awareness around the ways in which heteronormativity regulates and restricts everyone. They place young trans people at the heart of the organisation and they respect that young trans people’s lives are rich and diverse, including their gender identity, sexuality, age, abilities and disabilities, ethnic background, faith and beliefs. Gendered Intelligence is committed to an idea that everyone can be intelligent about gender.

The dance project all began when I met with Jay Stewart (co-founder of Gendered Intelligence) to discuss how dance could feature as an activity for the GI Youth Group. We put our heads together and decided to seek funding for the project to coincide with Big Dance week (7-15 July 2012) and World Pride London (7July 2012). With the support of a Big Dance Micro grant we are now able to hold three free workshops called MOVE with Gendered Intelligence aimed specifically at Trans*, Queer and LGB young people aged 14-25.

From my discussions with Jay and young Trans* people from the GI Youth Group, there are a number of barriers to taking part in dance classes. Like most young people, they are learning how to be with their bodies, with the added anxieties of tackling gendered changing rooms and being mis-gendered in front of large groups. With an ordinary dancing class a young Trans* person may consider these obstacles to be too much and be discouraged from attending. These workshops aim to provide a safe space for Trans* youth to explore dance styles with each other, in an environment not usually available to them.

In addition to providing this space for Trans* youth these workshops also aim to provide a space for Trans visibility in the LGB community by providing an explicitly inclusive space where young people can gain exposure to each other and find common ground through the dance activities.

During the sessions we aim to provide a platform for young people to explore accepted gender roles. In the Latin session we will teach the basics of the Paso Doble and play with the established gender roles of the matador and cape/bull. In the Street dance workshop we will embrace the androgyny of the style and discuss how men and women are portrayed in music videos. The Queer Tango session will demonstrate how to lead and follow in tango and even swap roles whilst dancing.

In many cultures across the world dancing is an integral part of society. Dance has featured in my life since the age of three, so dancing is like breathing to me, but for some people dancing can be uncomfortable and awkward. I am interested in providing a space for people to try dancing without fear of judgement or ridicule. Learning to dance is like learning to walk, you will undoubtedly trip up, fall over, or bump into things, but just as you do when you’re a child, you can get up and try again and even be good at it.

I have already successfully brought movement into the choir I am a part of, The Pink Singers, Europe’s oldest LGBT community choir. In a few short years we have gone from a choir with very little movement to performing complex routines (you can see our work here on YouTube). The majority of the 80 singers are non-dancers and I met with some resistance when I started. My approach is to work within the range of the group, break-down the steps and give plenty of positive reinforcement at the learning stages. It is also important that the people I am working with are allowed to progress at a pace that is comfortable for them while still being challenged enough for it to be fun and interesting.

There are many types of dancer: the professional dancer is trained to a high level and performs like an athlete, they come in many shapes and sizes (not just skinny); the amateur dancer may have taken classes as a child and attends evening classes and likes a boogie at the weekend; the dance-like-no-one’s-watching dancer has no formal training but loves to throw shapes at every opportunity no matter who is watching; the secret dancer is like the dance-like-no-one’s-watching dancer but only does it when no one is watching; the reluctant dancer is shy and tends to freeze at the sound of a rhythmic beat but might shuffle politely when surrounded by any of the above; the anti-dancer point blank refuses to move a muscle and will stare angrily at anyone that tries to encourage any resemblance of a dance move.

Whichever one you are I encourage you to join me at one or more of the MOVE workshops and explore what dance can be for you.

MOVE with Gendered Intelligence takes place over three workshops in London.

Latin Dance– Paso Doble – Thursday 28 June 2012, 6-9pm

Street Dance – Saturday 30 June 2012, 2-5pm

Queer Tango – Wednesday 4 July, 6-9pm

All workshops take place at Central School of Speech & Drama, click here for further details and email Rachel on to book your free place.

Join us for WorldPride London on Saturday 7 July – whatever your age come and march in support of Gendered Intelligence, contact Rachel on to sign up and get further details.

Hear more about MOVE with Gendered Intelligence at the annual Trans Community Conference on Friday 13 July 2012 at Central School of Speech & Drama.

Further information and booking via:

More: Dance, gender, Trans, Transgender

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