Written by Bodies in Play Founder, Andrew Pearson.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the immense pleasure of witnessing the outstanding talents of international artists Akram Kahn and Lucy Guerin. In experiencing these works I was reminded of how viscerally responsive I become to rich folk traditions within contemporary performance. It got me thinking about my own work and community and the culture it is reflective of. We often don’t think of pop culture as artistically relevant, and actively draw lines in the sand between “commercial” and “artful.” Yet the deeper I dive into my own artistic research the stronger the influence of my affluent 1990’s upbringing takes hold. My family never congregated for weekly prayer - but we watched Friends together every Thursday night. My friends and I were never introduced to folklore or ritual - but we idolized the Spice Girls and ceremoniously fought evil as the Power Rangers. Interestingly, the more I make room for these influences in my work, the more alive the work becomes.
I also find that this deeper authenticity in my practice has invited a deeper authenticity in my sexuality. When I first started dancing, taking HipHop at a local studio, I remember watching the Jazz class before me, shaking their hips and throwing their hair to Janet Jackson’s “Together Again.” I longed to be in that class, but knew that “boys don’t dance like that.” This idea isn’t something anyone ever explicitly said to me, but it was known, at a gut level, that the desire I had was somehow wrong. This kind of message continues to infiltrate today’s social landscape. Recently, a music video I choreographed for the artist The Hound has been banned or censored on most social media platforms. The video, which portrays two men kissing, sharing a bed, and dancing in their underwear, is in no way more explicit than any mainstream pop video featuring scantily clad women in suggestive poses. What saddens me most about the situation is that I almost expected this double-standard censorship to occur.
As someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, coming of age in the era of Will and Grace, in a loving and open home, while experiencing little to no bullying as a child, the idea that this kind of shame could still seep in to my psyche I think proves how insidious the hetero-normalization of our society is. Perhaps this urge to make work equally investigative and accessible is my way of rebelling against the status quo, feeding unmet childhood desires, and embracing my specific culture. I think just like our sexuality, we can’t help what attracts our creativity, and I’m proud to say I am no longer interested in fitting my work into anyone else’s mold.