This piece came about as a sort of side product of my solo show, “Ladies At A Gay Girl’s Bar, 1938-1969.” The solo show is all about the feels - or, as it says in my grant applications, about exploring the emotional landscape of femmes in mid-century working class lesbian communities. Parts of this piece do show up in the solo show. But I had an aha moment about the eternal question "are femmes really gay" that didn't quite fit. Hence, my “TED Talk.” Below is the piece as I performed it, with links to further info for all you nerds out there.
Books and stories give us windows of possibility as queer people. “We Walk Alone Through Lesbos’ Lonely Groves” by Ann Aldrich came out in 1955.
Ann Aldrich is one of the many pen names of Marijane Meaker, one of the first lesbian pulp writers and a lesbian herself.
This book had a tremendous effect on how lesbians saw themselves and their communities. If you didn’t fall in love with the girl across the hall or stumble into a gay bar, this book could be a guide to figuring out who you were, who your people were, and what you could do about it.
I want to share what this book has to say about femmes.
“The best way to describe a femme is to say that she seems always to be on the verge of something. A butch is an expensive dependent, and the fem often talks about the break she is on the verge of getting, which will provide her and her lover with those luxuries for which they dare to hope.
The fem is on the verge of femininity - she too is a caricature - this time a caricature of womanliness. Her perfume is a little too heavy, her hats are a little too zany, her makeup is overdone, her walk exaggerated, her speech affected. Her effort to be a feminine being is too concentrated.
Fems try hard to look, act and be ladies, but they never quite succeed. While she is attracted to the girl who can look more mannish than any other, she is repelled by men. “
It reflects the narrator's prejudices. Against butches, femmes, sex workers. By today’s standards, the whole thing feels self-loathing. A white woman, she writes about people of color as others, if at all.
A huge part of her disdain for femmes and butches is based on their working class roots, their embracing of their queerness, their refusal to assimilate while upper class lesbians carried out discreet affairs.
Excessive. Overdone, zany.
Trying to be a lady, but categorically unable to succeed because in 1955, you can only be a lady if you are, at bare minimum, not repelled by men.
Excessive. Overdone. Zany.
That’s what we like about femme, isn’t it?
We love femmes here, today at Oberon. We love the entire spectrum of amazing, incredible things that femme can mean now, and the narrower, also amazing, incredible, roles that femmes played in lesbian communities in the past.
But not every day is the Femme Show. Sometimes we’re told we don’t belong. I've been trying to figure out why. Trying to figure out what happened before and after Ann Aldrich that got us to where we are. There are many answers, and some very specific ones can be found in books that gave lesbians images of themselves.
While we’re talking about books, we can go back to 1928 and The Well of Loneliness - the tale of a butch or “invert” who sacrifices her own happiness so the feminine woman she loves can find happiness with a man.
But the trope of a predatory, masculine lesbian in love with a “normal” feminine woman shows up in American media as early as 1892, when the murder of Freda Ward by her masculine fiancee Alice Mitchell captivated America - If they had true crime podcasts in the 1800s this would have been a hit. (There’s a great book about it by Alexis Coe )
So, I come out in 1998, a crunchy hippie girly girl, I start looking for dykes, looking for role models, and I find them in pretty expected places - the athletics department, folk concerts, coffee shops. Then I try to read every gay book in the state library system. And the more i read, the more confused I am about femme, about where my femininity fits, if it’s something I can hold on to or if it needs to be cast aside.
By now, the idea that a lesbian is a masculine person who falls in love with straight women is generations old. The idea that femmes don’t belong here.*
No wonder the political activists and Xena Warrior Princess fanatics who were my lesbian role models told me I wore dresses too much.
No wonder i felt so alone, so unseen, in my queer community in the 2000s.
No wonder, as i started to learn about queer history, especially the mid 20th century working class butches and femmes who are the forgotten vanguard of lesbian visibility, I also read that the femmes weren’t really considered gay. According to butches AND femmes at the time, femmes weren’t trustworthy, weren’t committed to the life. If it was easier to marry a man, they went off and married a man.
But when they walked down the street with a butch, there was no mistaking who they were and why they were together. The femme is an essential piece of the equation.
Yes, some did marry men.
But I refuse to believe that all of them did. I refuse to be parted from the rich history of butch-femme resistance.
When we think about our pre-stonewall forebears, I want us to remember that there were femmes showing up every night, every weekend, to bars and house parties, because they loved women - because their desire for women, for butch women, was stronger than homophobia, stronger than patriarchy.
And what could be gayer than that?
*I’m indebted to Marie Cartier’s Baby, You Are My Religion for noting how widespread and fundamental the trope of the straight femme became in the popular imagination.
Femfinite: The Femme Show 2019 will sell out for sure, so get tickets today!
Dancing Queerly seeks to bring LGBTQ community members of all ages and experiences together through dance. In order to further this mission, we respectfully ask everyone who attends or participates to read and abide by these guidelines.
Addition guidelines for Dance Curious, our LGBTQ only workshop, are here.
Meet your Dance-Curious Teachers!
Dance-Curious is 4 mini workshops in 2 hours, just for the LGBTQ+ community!
Lessons will be geared towards beginners, but will also be fun for those with experience! We have an awesome line up of genres and teachers for you!
Feel free to stay afterwards for a free, fun social!
Please read full participant guidelines here for answers to all your questions!
Carlos Silva (Salsa) is currently a Rumba y Timbal dancer, instructor and choreographer; since 2009 his dancing career took place in Bogota, Colombia thus allowing him to joined Esfera Latina Dance Company, one of the most important academies in the country. He has experienced and trained ballet and jazz as part of his training process. He has trained for almost nine years and participated in many salsa competitions including Festival Mundial de Salsa Cali 2011 & 2012, Colombia Salsa Festival, World Latin Dance Cup Pro Cabaret 2014, Summit Salsa Fest CT 2016 and 2017 and some other local competitions.
Jennifer Crowell-Kuhnberg (Contemporary) is the Executive Director of OnStage Dance Company, a choreographer, performer and dance instructor. In addition to creating work for OnStage, Jen choreographed the evening-length productions: Selichot (Temple Shalom, Newton, 2017), What Is Love? (Green Street Studios, Cambridge, 2015) and Heartbeat: A Modern Dance Rock Concert (OBERON, Cambridge, 2013-14), the music video, Bad for recording artist Jamie Lynn Hart, and had work featured in the Southern Vermont Dance Festival, Dance For World Community, NACHMO Boston & NYC, Third Life Choreographer Series and OnStage | Repertory productions. Jennifer is on staff at Cheryl Sullivan's School of Dance and Dance Place.
Jo Troll (Irish)is a trans choreographer and art-maker with a Graduate Diploma in Dance Studies from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. They have recently presented work as part of a residency at OnStage Dance Company and the Dance Complex's aMaSSiT mentoring and choreography lab. Over the years, they have created work for amateur queer dance performance and as one of the first DUCKiE upstarts at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London. Originally an Irish dancer, Jo explores the intersection between different forms of percussive and contemporary dance. They engage with challenging questions of tradition and identity in dance spaces in order to find an unapologetically queer, honest, and accessible means to present their work.
Maggie Cee (ballet) is founder and director of “The Femme Show”, a variety show featuring dance, spoken word, performance art, and drag exploring queer femininity. “The Femme Show” has been a staple of LGBTQ entertainment in Boston since 2007. Maggie has presented “Ballet is For Everyone” at LGBTQ youth conferences and the 2012 Femme Conference and received a Boston Pride Foundation grant for a series of Queer Ballet classes in 2015.
Dance-Curious workshops are FUN, so we want to ensure that the space is safe and comfortable. Participants are expected to be respectful to everyone, regardless of race, creed, nationality, disability, age, sexual orientation, sex, gender, or gender expression.
Please read these guidelines before attending. They include practical information as well as ways you can help keep the space safe and comfortable for everyone (including yourself).
How much does it cost? How do I sign up?
What will we do?
Dance and bodies:
Caring for ourselves and others
The outside world and photography:
We know that everyone is here with the best of intentions, but even the best of intentions can lead to mistakes.. If someone’s behavior makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, please ask them to stop and/or remove yourself from the situation. If their behavior continues, please inform one of the organizers so that we can ensure your safety and find a resolution.
We’re super excited to dance with you!
If cost is a barrier for you, contact us firstname.lastname@example.org for a discount or a pay-what-you-can option.
Saturday, June 2, 2:00-4:00 PM
Gender Free Ballroom Dance Workshop with Eddie Alba and J. Michael Winward
This workshop will be taught by 2015 U.S. Same-Sex American Smooth and Showdance Champions Eddie Alba and J Michael Winward. In competition, Eddie and Michael alternated between the leader and follower roles: a hallmark of same-sex ballroom dancing. They teach leading and following from a gender-neutral perspective--in this workshop, using Tango and Cha-cha as the base. No prior experience or partner is necessary to attend. Those with experience dancing either the leader or follower role are welcome to come learn the opposite. Either ballroom shoes or comfortable, clean-soled dress shoes are encouraged. We look forward to dancing with you!
This workshop is in Studio 7 on the ground floor of the Dance Complex, with step-free access. Modifications to suit participant's physical needs and abilities will be offered.
Sunday, June 10, 2:00-4:00 PM
Sassy Hip Hop Workshop with Christian Suharlim
Learn a sassy, diva-esque dance routine with Sassy Hip-Hop instructor, Chris Suharlim. The class will begin with a short warm-up followed by a detailed breakdown of the choreography and will end with a class group performance. All proceeds will be donated to non-profits working in LGBTQ health and advocacy.
Sunday, June 10, 5:00-6:30 PM
Rainbow Cocktails in Honor of Dance Now Boston and Dancing Queerly
Join us as we honor Dance Now Boston and Dancing Queerly for an evening of mixing and mingling in The Dance Complex’s Studio 7 cabaret space! Among the rainbow-clad cafe tables you’ll find pop-up performances, hors d’oeuvres, and a spread of beverages to excite your palate. (Not to mention good company!) Tickets here.
Saturday, June 16, 2:00-4:00 PM
Dying Swan Workshop with Les Ballet Trockadero
Join the world’s foremost all-male comic ballet company to learn their signature solo, the Dying Swan - with the opportunity to put your own spin on this humorous classic! Participants will be given a short warmup and will then be taught the Dying Swan. This workshop is great for for dancers and non-dancers alike of all ages.
This workshop is in Studio 1 of The Dance Complex. There is a stair lift to the second floor.
Modifications to suit participant's physical needs and abilities will be offered.
Wednesday June 20 6:00-8:00 PM
An evening for (self-identified) queer dancers and non-dancers of all ages and experiences to come together through dance. Dance-curious is an evening for LGBTQ dancers and non-dancers to explore various styles of dance in a series of short workshops, including ballet, ballroom, Irish dance, and improvisation followed by a social.
Dance studios can be fraught in terms of gender and sexual orientation, so this is a queer-friendly, LGBTQ-only* space for members of the LGBTQ community to connect through dance in a way that would not be possible in a mainstream dance class.
This workshop is in Studio 7 on the ground floor of the Dance Complex, with step-free access. Modifications to suit participant's physical needs and abilities will be offered.
*Allies, we love you! Please support this opportunity for LGBTQ folks to have a safe space to dance by spreading the word and ensuring that it remains a self-identified LGBTQ-only space. We hope to see you performances on June 22nd and 23rd!
**What happens in the dance studio stays in the dance studio! We are working to ensure that anyone who chooses to attend will not be outed. If fear of being outed is a barrier to attend these workshops, please contact us and we will work with you to ensure your safety and comfort. Photography will take place during the workshop with clear, easy opt-out possibilities.
Saturday June 23 1:30-3:30
Evolving the Feminine/QUEERing Performance Workshop with April Sellers
Gender and sexuality are increasingly critical lenses through which to view the world. Both
women’s studies and queer studies incorporate a fundamental view of gender as neither stable
nor absolute. In this workshop The April Sellers Dance Collective will guide participants through observation and movement inquiry answering the questions: What is queer performance? What elements of queer performance have made their way onto the main stage of contemporary performance? How has the presentation of gender and sexuality on stage transformed through time in reflection to our society's changing values?
Saturday, June 23, 4:00-5:30 PM
Dancing Queerly Discussion
FREE - Register Here!
Join Dancing Queerly choreographers and moderator Kareem Khubchandani for a discussion of queer dance and what it means to dance queerly now. Enjoy refreshments while hearing from choreographers, asking questions, and broadening dialogue about dance.
Alexander Davis (choreographer, performer) is a Boston based perform, choreographer, fiber artist. He is graduate of Keene State College where he received a BA in English: Writing, and a BA in Theatre and Dance: Choreography and Performance. Alex has worked, performed and presented with organizations across Boston including Ryan Landry's Gold Dust Orphans, Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Children's Chorus, World Music/CRASHarts and Improv Asylum/Laugh Boston. Alex is currently a company member with Urbanity Dance, where he is also the director of the their Summer Choreographer Intensive Program. As a choreographer and fiber artist Alex has received grant and residency support from The Studios at Mass MoCA, The Boston Foundation, Urbanity Dance, and The Theatre Offensive. Alex and collaborator Joy Davis (The Davis Sisters) were recently awarded a 2018 Schoenberg (Boston) Fellowship Residency at The Yard to develop and perform a new work in September. Alex is a passionate arts administrator, a published memoirist, a college professor, an exhibited visual artist, a sexual consent educator, and an okay comedian. www.alexanderdavis.dance @AlexanderDavisDance
Angelina Benitez (choreographer, performer) recently graduated from Salem State University with a B.A in Modern/Contemporary Dance and Spanish World, Language, and Culture. At Salem State University she studied under Meghan McLyman, Betsy Miller, and James Morrow. Her performance experience includes ensemble work opening for BoSoma’s The Dinner Table: Vignettes of Betrayal, performing in Salem State University’s Dance Ensemble’s concerts, and Repertory Dance Theatre’s semi-annual concerts. When she isn’t performing or choreographing, she enjoys teaching. She has taught summer dance camps at a local YMCA, assisted at Enchanted Dance Academy, and taught as a guest artist at InSync Center of the Arts. Though she enjoys these aspects of dance she most looks forward to pursuing a career in Dance Administration.
April Sellers (teacher, choreographer, performer) is an independent choreographer, dancer and performance curator who for 18 years has created over 60 original works. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of the April Sellers Dance Collective which is renowned for its complex expressions of gender and identity in highly crafted performances. Her most recent and transgressive performance, Animal Corridor prompted the award “Artist of the Year” by City Pages in 2017. Other awards include the Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grants (2015, 2002), the McKnight Fellowship for Choreography (2011) and the Sage Award (2006). Over the past decade, Sellers has been invited to participate in a number of residencies like the Djerassi Resident Artists Program (Santa Cruz, California) and the Maggie Allessee National Center for Choreography (Tallahassee, Florida). Sellers holds an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
Chris Suharlim (teacher, choreographer, performer) is a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who has been dancing to upbeat pop and k-pop songs since 2006. He is a faculty teaching artist at the Dance Complex in Central Square, where his fem style diva-esque Sassy Hip-Hop class received “Boston’s Best” award by Improper Bostonian in 2017. His mission is to provide dance classes that are inclusive (of individuals of all dance levels and socio-economic backgrounds), fun (not about mastering choreography, but about letting loose), and charitable (his class proceeds are non-deductible donations for his public health foundation). His mission and work is recently covered by Emerson College on a body-positive documentary, ‘Overtures’. In addition, performing as Miss Diagnosis, his Sassy Hiphop team won the the first place at the Race for the Tiara charity competition, contributed to over $7,000 fundraising for Aids Action.
Dante Brown (choreographer, performer) began his dance training at Wesleyan University, which led him to The Ohio State University to receive his MFA in Choreography. As a performer, Dante has worked with artists such as Esther Baker-Tarpaga, Christal Brown, David Dorfman, Kendra Portier, Nicole Stanton, Noa Zuk and at the Dance Exchange. Since its founding in 2010, Warehouse Dance has shown work at Bates Dance Festival (ME), Boston Contemporary Dance Festival and Dance Complex (MA), Columbus Dance Theater and Wexner Center for the Arts (OH), Dance Gallery Festival (NY & TX), Dixon Place, GAP Green Building, LaMaMa Moves Festival, Movement Research at Judson Church, Triskelion Arts and The Wild Project (all NYC), Sam Houston State University (TX), and YourMove Dance Festival (NJ). Dante has had the opportunity to teach a range of classes at Broadway Dance Center, Dancewave, East Village Dance Project, and Gibney Dance Center (all in NYC), and The Ohio State University. He has held collegiate positions as an Adjunct Professor at CUNY Westchester Community College, Lecturer in Dance at Bates College, and a Visiting Assistant Professor at Wesleyan University. Most recently, he was awarded the Schwartz Center for Performing Artists Fellowship at Emory University. He is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Amherst College.
Eddie Alba (teacher) began his ballroom dancing career over 20 years ago. As a professional competitor in the American Smooth division from 1995 to 2006, he was a Rising Star Champion. As a Pro-Am competitor, Eddie continues to compete in all styles of partner dance with his many students, and has won multiple Top Teacher Awards. Eddie is the owner of Century Dancesport, Orange County’s premier ballroom dance studio. Eddie is an active member of the North American Same-Sex Partner Dance Association (NASSPDA). He is the reigning Male International Standard World Champion in the A Division, having received the title in 2014. Previously, he was the 2008 North American Male Latin Champion. Eddie has been a judge at multiple NASPDA events, including April Follies, Dancing in the River City, and Boston Open Dancesport. Eddie is a current member of the NAASPDA Board of Directors.
Jennifer Crowell-Kuhnberg (teacher) is the Executive Director of OnStage Dance Company, a choreographer, performer and dance instructor. In addition to creating work for OnStage, Jen choreographed the evening-length productions: Selichot (Temple Shalom, Newton, 2017), What Is Love? (Green Street Studios, Cambridge, 2015) and Heartbeat: A Modern Dance Rock Concert (OBERON, Cambridge, 2013-14), the music video Bad for recording artist Jamie Lynn Hart, and had work featured in the Southern Vermont Dance Festival, Dance For World Community, NACHMO Boston & NYC, Third Life Choreographer Series and OnStage | Repertory productions. Jennifer is on staff at Cheryl Sullivan's School of Dance and Dance Place.
Jo Troll (teacher, choreographer, performer, consultant) is a trans choreographer and art-maker, has a Graduate Diploma in Dance Studies from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. They have recently presented work as part of a residency at OnStage Dance Company and the Dance Complex's aMaSSiT mentoring and choreography lab. Over the years, they have created work for amateur queer dance performance and as one of the first DUCKiE upstarts at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London. Originally an Irish dancer, Jo explores the intersection between different forms of percussive and contemporary dance. They engage with challenging questions of tradition and identity in dance spaces in order to find an unapologetically queer, honest, and accessible means to present their work.
J. Michael Winward (co-producer, teacher, choreographer, performer) is an independent dance artist based in Boston. With influences in American-style ballroom, ballet, contemporary and somatic dance practices, his work places a strong focus on building connection: connection to one’s body, one’s self, one’s audience, connection between dance partners, connection within and across communities. As Artist Liaison at The Dance Complex, Michael facilitates artist-produced and in-house performances, working to ensure that productions run smoothly from conception to execution. As dancer and company manager for Peter DiMuro/Public Displays of Motion (PDM), Michael works to advance the PDM mission of cultivating dance/arts literacy, advocacy and engagement. During his career as a competitive ballroom dancer, Michael advocated for the inclusion of same-sex partnership in mainstream competition. Through his program Steps in Time, he brings social ballroom dancing to senior and elder care facilities throughout Greater Boston.
Kareem Khubchandani (moderator) is the Mellon Bridge Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Drama & Dance and the Program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Tufts University teaching at the intersection of performance studies and queer studies. Heis also a performance artist, working in drag, storytelling, body art, theater, and digital media. He has performed at the Austin International Drag Festival, Queens Musuem, Jack Theater, and Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance.
Instagram: @kareempuff + @lawhorevagistan Twitter: @kareempuff
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (teacher) was founded in 1974 by a group of ballet enthusiasts for the purpose of presenting a playful, entertaining view of traditional, classical ballet in parody form and in drag. Les Ballets Trockadero first performed in the late-late shows in Off-Off Broadway lofts. The TROCKS, as they are affectionately known, quickly garnered a major critical essay by Arlene Croce in The New Yorker, and combined with reviews in The New York Times and The Village Voice, established the Company as an artistic and popular success. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is a company of professional male dancers performing the full range of the ballet and modern dance repertoire, including classical and original works in faithful renditions of the manners and conceits of those dance styles. The comedy is achieved by incorporating and exaggerating the foibles, accidents, and underlying incongruities of serious dance.
Maggie Cee (co-producer, teacher, choreographer, performer) is founder and director of“The Femme Show”, a variety show featuring dance, spoken word, performance art, and drag exploring queer femininity. “The Femme Show” has been a staple of LGBTQ entertainment in Boston since 2007. Maggie is the 2011 recipient of the History Project’s Lavender Rhino Award for an emerging LGBT history maker. Her work as a performer and as a producer engages with the LGBT/queer community and allies to expose bias, misogyny, and power dynamics within the community and in society at large.
Nick M. Daniels (choreographer, performer) was born and raised in Pittsburgh and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Dance from Slippery Rock University. Nick is founding Artistic Director of the DANA (Dancers Against Normal Actions) Movement Ensemble. The Ensemble has received many awards and favorable reviews from across the country. Appearances and accolades include the Three Rivers Arts Festival, the Carnegie Museum, the Pittsburgh Dance Council, Freshworks resident for The Kelly Strayhorn Theater, New Moves Festival 2016, The My People Queer Showcase, Google Pittsburgh, the Mattress Factory's Urban Garden Party, CREATE award nomination, recipient of the Advancing Black Artist /Three Rivers Support Grant, Main Stage performance at the 2017 EQT Pride Festival, and the Scranton Fringe festival.
Rebecca Lang (choreographer, performer) is a Senior at Salem State University studying Social Work and Dance. She previously trained at In Sync Center of the Arts in Quincy, MA. She is currently studying dance under Meghan McLyman and Betsy Miller. As an artist, she approaches her work with an experimental mindset and is always looking for ways to collaborate. Her performance experience includes opening for BoSoma’s The Dinner Table: Vignettes of Betrayal, Salem Dance Ensembles and Repertory Dance Theatre’s semi-annual concerts, American College Dance Associations adjudicated concert and performing as a member of Kaleidoscope Dance Company. Rebecca teaches contemporary, ballet, tap, and jazz at In Sync Center of the Arts. For the past four years, Rebecca has choreographed for Salem Dance Ensemble, Repertory Dance Theatre, and Insync Center of the Arts. She would like to combine the aspects of empowerment utilized in Social Work practice with her love of dance teaching, performing, and choreographing. Rebecca combines her two areas of study by fostering expressive atmospheres that respect diversity of experiences and capabilities. She believes that dance should be available to all bodies and communities.
The lovely Amy Raina wasn't able to make it to Boston for our shows this year, but she put on a beautiful show in Portland and performed her new piece, Trust A Femme there. I'd love for you to read it on her website.
This is my favorite part:
I imagine her sitting on a lavender couch with Oscar Wilde
He has a flower in his pocket and writes poetry
Her pen is a needle
Piercing through the taught fabric like a page
Pulling the floss through again and again
It was her grandma that taught her, how to separate
How to back-stitch,
And dot the I’s with french knots.