Filed under: Dance | Tags: becoming emma becoming imperceptible, blackhawk photos, burlesque bitch, burlypicks, michael j morris, viva valezz
On Saturday, March 29, 2014, I had the honor to perform in the Ohio Burlypicks Regional Burlesque and Variety Performance Competition, presented by Viva Valezz! and Burlesque Bitch. It was an exceptional night with performances by some of the most talented burlesque performers in the region.
I performed my piece Becoming Emma, Becoming Imperceptible. Below are some photographs taken by Blackhawk Photos.
Filed under: culture | Tags: bondage, daddy: a memoir, family, feminist porn, kink, madison young, pornography, sex
Madison Young’s Memoir offers a truly rare account of a rich, complex life, of art, sex, porn, kink, and family. This will surely be a book for those looking for an insider’s account of working in porn and kink. Madison Young is an icon of feminist pornography, radical queer arts activism, sex education, bondage, and kink. No doubt this memoir will find an audience of fans and devotees already smitten with her work and public persona, hungry for a more intimate view into her life. Young—originally Tina Butcher—narrates the evolution of her porn persona, guides readers through the halls and chambers of the legendary KINK Armory, walks us through the throngs of people at the Folsom Street Fair, and goes into vivid, erotic detail describing sex both on and off camera. The writing is hot and will certainly arouse and delight. Her story will give feminists and activists much to celebrate and some places with which to struggle, where one woman wrestles to actualize her passions and ideals in and through her work, her relationships, and herself. Those looking for something of a guidebook into sex and kink will no doubt find Young’s journey educational and inspiring.
However, the significance of Young’s memoir exceeds anything like a “celebrity tell-all” or a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most important feminist pornographers of our time. Throughout the details of art and porn and kink are stories for any person trying to forge their own paths, to discover who they might become, to love and foster lasting relationships, and to find others with whom life is worth living. Daddy tells a story of one person’s journey that bleeds back and forth across decades, where the present turns again and again back towards a past from which it emerges, where the presence of the past sets the stage for how the present unfolds. It is a story of finding heroes and home, with its roots in a Midwestern childhood colored with loss, otherness, and shame, a journey of discovering empowerment and self-actualization in San Francisco and beyond. It is a journey there never fully finds completion; it turns out—for Young, perhaps for all of us—that what it takes to be empowered changes over time, that anxieties come and go, that shame and old wounds take time to heal, and that self-actualization takes place in all kinds of partnerships in all kinds of settings—having sex on a dirty bathroom floor of a bar, bound and suspended by rope, being fucked on camera, during performance art, covered in soil on stage surrounded by California red woods, holding a mother’s hand, planting basil on a patio, during a video conference call with a therapist, holding a child in your arms, and being held in the arms of our lovers. That the journey is never complete and that each step cannot be certain does not make the journey a failure; it is a journey that must remain ongoing, and each step is an act of bravery: that is what makes it a success.
Throughout her Memoir, Young navigates the shifting dimensions of relationships, negotiating monogamy, polyamory, open and dominant/submissive relationships, contending with the flourishing of love, stability, and security as well as the sometimes sudden and sometimes gradual pain of jealousy, anxiety, depression, and abandonment. In these navigations and negotiations, she works to find livability between the dynamic evolution of what becomes public and what remains private, what can be open and what needs to remain closed, what is part of love and what is part of work. She gives us an honest view of one person’s victories and challenges maintaining multiple identities, balancing who she is and who she wants to be. These are themes with which many of us are familiar: how do you make relationships work? How do we celebrate stability and security without ignoring or avoiding inevitable jealousies, insecurities, anxieties, and hurt? How can we recognize that one solution or version will not necessarily work forever and always, for the relationships we cultivate, nor for who it is that we might be? What does it take to stay connected—to others and ourselves—and move forward?
For me, Daddy is a story of families—of origin, of those we choose, and those we make—and the courage and creativity needed to find a way to love and live with others. Young does not move through her journey alone: this tale is populated with mothers and fathers, fairy godmothers, lovers, collaborators, respected colleagues, therapists, and trusted friends. One of the many lessons that I have taken from Young’s memoir is that none of us face this world alone, and we become more of ourselves as we discover ourselves with others.
There are parts of Young’s tale to which we might all relate, portions with which we might identify; there are other parts that recount experiences that probably few have lived. Young narrates us through the unfamiliar even as she herself comes again and again to the edges of what she has known, who she has been, and who she might become. She details her life—a life that is very different from mine, probably very different from yours—and in doing so, helps open up possibilities for what a life might be—from little girl to slut to hero, queer, lesbian, artist, activist, pornographer, submissive, feminist, bisexual, ecosexual, mother, and so on. In telling her own tale, Young expands an archive of lives lived, and in doing so, affirms and enables other ways of living and lives that might yet be.
I consider Madison Young to be a superhero—a sexual superhero, and so much more. Her book reminds us that even our superheroes suffer wounds—both physical and emotional. No great work is without cost and no great life is without suffering. Young reminds us that, “The reality is that we all have heroic moments. Sometimes, we have to be our own heroes and sometimes our heroes need our help. They are, after all, human too.” She boldly faces her own wounds and lives out something of her own healing in the pages that she’s written; she courageously comes to the aid of her own heroes, and we’re allowed to witness this as well. Some of it can be traumatic to read, some of it can be deeply triggering, but even at its most intense, Young remains a trustworthy caretaker of her reader throughout, all the way up to her words to her own child, “Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with yourself and with those around you,” to a final deep breath and “Instructions for Aftercare” in the “Afterword.”
Near the end of the book, in relation to her own therapy, Young writes, “It was hard work, delving through the past, understanding our emotions, our actions, and creating new pathways. Sometimes it felt like more than I could bear, but that was why I had support.” This summarizes for me the important insights of this Memoir: it is, itself, a difficult delving through her own life, back to families of origin, through painful and joyful moments throughout her career and adult life, making connections strand by stand, reflecting on herself, coming to recognize herself, coming to recognize those from whom she draws support, and finally giving an account of that life. I would not say that it is a Memoir intended to offer a model for living, a path for anyone else to follow; I don’t believe that’s Young’s intention. Rather, it boldly and courageously models something of how we might each approach our own lives, our own loves, our own desires, our own wounds, how we might forge our own paths, do the hard work of coming to know ourselves, and share who we come to know with others.
Filed under: Dance, inspiration, personal | Tags: american college dance festival, annie sprinkle, autumn quartet, baton rouge, click here 4 slideshow or 6-8 character limit, coco loupe, cocoloupedance, columbus, columbus dance theatre, comfest, cuddle, deborah hay, dj moxy, elizabeth stephens, eric falck, feverhead, FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival, from one foot to the other, grooveasana, jeff fouch, loupe'd, of moving colors productions, queer porn, queer yoga, stupid cupid, the ohio state university, the runner, TRAUMA, wall street nightclub, wholly craft, wild goose creative, Yoga
I want to write about CoCo Loupe in Columbus, Ohio. Or maybe it’s more like: I want to write about CoCo Loupe and me in Columbus, Ohio.
I recognize the impossibility of this endeavor before I even begin, but the impossibility of an endeavor must not diminish the possibility of attempting it, because the attempt will surely produce something other and more than that which is impossible.
Impossible because it will never be a complete account; any trace that I can write will only thread together fragments and gaps to offer an incomplete view, a partial perspective, woven from memory and forgetting.
My life with CoCo begins long before Columbus.
CoCo’s life with Columbus begins before I arrived here.
My life with Columbus will continue once CoCo moves back to Baton Rouge—where we first met—although her having been here will always continue to be how I know this place.
This trace will not offer an account of everything. I doubt it will be entirely linear. But here it is:
I first met CoCo when I was in high school. She was my first modern dance teacher, at The Dancer’s Workshop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we are both from. My memories of CoCo from that period: her shaved head, the intensity of her classes, the Run Lola Run soundtrack, something called “acid jazz,” learning to do “illusions” and something she called “shnorkles,” and lots of pushups and crunches—a series she called G. I. Jane.
She was teaching at LSU at the time, and sometimes her students from the university would come and take class with us.
I would often see her getting coffee at the CC’s around the corner before class. I knew of her before I took her class at Dancer’s Workshop; she had done a show called Loupe’d with the modern dance company with whom I would eventually dance, Of Moving Colors Productions (OMC), and I remember seeing the posters for the show at my high school. Later when I worked for OMC, I filed lots of flyers with her bio on them, and saw this photo all the time:
This was how I saw CoCo for many, many years.
When working for OMC, I saw a video of Loupe’d, and I watched it obsessively for years; she did not know this at the time. What I saw in CoCo’s choreography, and her collaborative work with Amiti Perry, was unlike any dancing I had seen in Baton Rouge. It was so strong and connected; I could hardly keep up with how one action became another and led into something else. I knew I wanted to dance like that someday.
Years later, I would create a solo based on a solo that CoCo presented in Loupe’d; I didn’t know this at the time.
Then she moved to Columbus, Ohio, for grad school, and I went to college in Jackson, Mississippi. We saw each other several times at American College Dance Festivals during those years, and I felt like our lives were being braided together somehow, from this starting point in Baton Rouge to somewhere I did not yet know. I took her technique classes a these festivals, and I remember being disoriented by how familiar it was, and also how much her dancing had evolved, the mix of the unfamiliar within what was already intimately incorporated into my body from years earlier. When I graduated from college, I chose to apply to the Ohio State University for my MFA in Dance because this was where CoCo went and because the work that I had seen her present at ACDF year after year was the kind of work I aspired to make. I was accepted to the program.
During those years, I devoured CoCo’s blog, From One Foot To The Other. The things that she wrote and thought about were the things I wanted to write and think about, and we left long traces of comments back and forth discussing things I can no longer recall but which gave me the first taste of what it would be like to think about and write about dance. I felt like my world was expanding line by line, post by post, thread by thread, comment by comment. Her blog gave me a connection to somewhere else, both literally her life and practice in Columbus (and then Oregon), and also a dancing life where dance and choreography functioned as research, where bodies were sites for critical inquiry, and dancing could ask questions about time and space and memory and cognition.
Year later, her blog would disappear—deceased—and it would be transformed into a zine and live on as a dance. We didn’t know this yet.
Years later, I would be teaching a course called Writing About Dance at the Ohio State University, and CoCo would come perform for my students so that they would have live dance to write about. We didn’t know this yet either.
When I first came for a visit to Columbus to find a place to live, CoCo met me for lunch at a place called Bodega. We ate salad and drank coffee, and she showed me a video of her dancing a solo called The Runner choreographed by Deborah Hay. Years later, words from Deborah Hay would become part of the structure and score for a dance CoCo would make called from one foot to the other, and I would see some of the words from Hay scribbled on the walls of a place called Feverhead, but we didn’t know this at the time.
In the years since then, I’ve seen CoCo perform The Runner several times. I saw it at least once at AGORA when Junctionview Studios was still in operation. And this is the dance that she would eventually perform live for my students, an updated version of the solo, formerly The Runner, now entitled 1976: a bicentennial death at the disco. we ran for our lives. I saw this dance for the first time on CoCo’s laptop on a hot June afternoon sitting in the front of Bodega in 2008.
At the end of my first year of grad school, CoCo asked me to dance in a new piece, originally to be titled 3 boys and an old prophetess, with Eric Falck, Jeff Fouch, CoCo, and myself, to be performed in a concert called Anthro(pop)ology II at the Columbus Dance Theater. I didn’t know Eric before this project, and I hardly knew Jeff. During the process of creating that piece, the four of us rehearsed in CoCo’s attic and a dance studio called Floorspace that no longer exists. During the process, it became unclear who were the three boys and who was the old prophetess; we all had prophetess solos, we all made solos to pop songs, we all danced together and with one another. And then CoCo got injured. Her role changed, and she became a figure who watched us, witnessed us, recorded us, and shared us. In the final version of the piece, she sat at a desk on the front edge of the stage with her computer and camera, watching us dance; on the opposite side of the stage was a large screen onto which was projected her computer’s desktop, and the audience watched as she watched us and uploaded comments and photos live to her Facebook. In the final version of the piece, we took turns dancing with one another and dancing for one another, watching each other and being watched by each other. The succession of solos was suffused with anticipation, I remember, charged with aggression and eroticism and tenderness, and each time we danced it, I think I fell in love with everyone involved again and again. The piece was entitled click here for slideshow or 6-8 character limit, and we danced it all summer and throughout the autumn until it premiered in the fall of 2009.
That same fall, I began choreographing a new dance temporarily then permanently entitled Autumn Quartet, with Erik Abbott-Main, Eric Falck, Amanda Platt, and myself. It was an experiment with explicit violence and sexuality, with more pop music, with conventional vocabularies of erotic performance—pre-figuring my work in burlesque, but I didn’t know this at the time—and systems of determinate and indeterminate algorithmic choreography. More aggression, more eroticism, more pop music, more tenderness, more falling in love. We danced set phrase material, made choices within an algorithmic score, stripped for one another, rolled around on the floor biting each other, leaving our marks on each other, being naked with each other, getting dressed in each other’s clothes. I asked CoCo to come see the piece and give me feedback. This is not the only dance of mine to which I would ask her to watch and respond; it was not the first nor was it the last. She was my guide, my other eyes; I could trust her to see what I could not see and to show my own dance(s) to me. I was so lost in that lovely, unpredictable, structured mess of a dance, and the dance CoCo described back to me was perhaps the first time I realized that we are always doing so much more than what it is that we think we are doing, in our choreography and in our lives. It’s an intimate act, to ask someone to give you their view of your own work, to invite that view into the creative process, to let their words affect the choices that you make in the dance that you are creating. In life—by which I mean something like life beyond the dance studio, although admittedly the boundaries get blurry—I think we call this something like love. CoCo is one of the few people who I have welcomed again and again into that position.
Over the next year, we danced together sometimes, as CoCo healed from her injury. She played golf. And sometimes we danced.
One time we danced at a food festival in the Gateway.
[I'm forgetting all kinds of things, and leaving things out. Each memory unravels into all kinds of other stories, other histories, other connections. Why don't I remember enough to write about BACKSPACE or the times I saw CoCo perform with them, all the different settings and situations in which we were together at Columbus Dance Theater? Why not explain that at the Gateway food festival, in the middle of an improvisation with whatever band was playing, I met Heidi Kambitsch who would eventually host the Queer Yoga classes that I teach at a space called It Looks Like It's Open? How can I not tie together all the strings of relationships with other people and faces in these photographs? Isn't it amazing that in trying to write one impossible trace, I can feel the pull of so many intersecting histories and how we've all made a life together here in this place called Columbus?]
That year—2010, the year I was accepted into the PhD program in the Department of Dance at OSU—CoCo did several performances/practices with the idea of “the other woman” (I think that’s what she was called). It was a version of CoCo, a video of her dancing, sped up and digitized, and the flesh-and-blood CoCo tried to learn this digitized, sped up version of herself, tried to dance like this other woman. Those were really important works for me to witness; I felt like she was dealing so directly with the impossibility of ideals, the intense labor of our bodies struggling to live up to standards that have been manufactured as digital images of ourselves, while also fully accepting our own cyborg statuses, how we are already actualized in conjunction with all kinds of digital software/hardware, and how our flesh-and-blood bodies have already become something other than they might have been because we have looked at ourselves in the mirror of technology and (mis?)recognized ourselves as our digital avatars. This is grown-up, cyborg “mirror phase” shit, and I was enthralled. She danced around this hybrid other woman for a while, at Wild Goose Creative, in the window of Wholly Craft, other places.
I didn’t know that soon thereafter CoCo and collaborators would stage an interactive dance/projected chat room spectacle at Wild Goose where I would be invited to be an “expert commentator,” to write about the dance that was happening live, to have that writing projected on the walls of the gallery for the spectators and performers to see, to have that text absorbed back into the dance. She has been dancing around our lives with technology for a while. I didn’t know that years later I would be dating someone that CoCo introduced to me who performs at Wild Goose month after month. There’s a lot we didn’t know all along.
A lot happened the following summer—2011. We did a performance with a lot of dancers at Comfest, and many friends I have since come to know and adore reference that performance as the first time they saw me (dancing with CoCo).
That same summer, Feverhead came into existence.
How do I even begin to write about Feverhead? It has been the setting for so many important moments in my life and in the lives of dancing and not-dancing people in this city. In July 2011, CoCo had the opening and tour of the Feverhead space, a space for making dances and for dancing, for performances and classes, the home of a collective of dancers called They Might Be Dancers and their collaborators. I showed up late after teaching yoga across town. I stretched out in the space for the first time that night.
I had no idea how many times I would stretch in that space, dance in that space, rehearse in that space, watch performances in that space, teach in that space, read my own writing in that space, teach and take Queer Yoga classes in that space, watch myself in a dance film projected on the walls of that space, cuddle in a bed with friends and lovers and strangers in that space, screen queer pornography on the walls of that space, cry on the floor of that space, pose for photos for a Valentine’s article about Columbus couples in that space, listen to music composed and performed by friends and loved ones in that space, discover new ways of thinking and moving and loving and performing all in this crazy little space called Feverhead. We simply had no idea at the time.
That fall, CoCo asked me to perform with her at TRAUMA, an annual kink/fetish Halloween event that has been happening in Columbus for over a decade. We learned choreography and rehearsed at Feverhead. This would be the first time I would perform in six-inch heels on stage. This would be the first time I would be flogged in front of hundreds of people. We danced for almost five hours on two different nights, on the main stage, on the dance floor, and again on the main stage. We left with welts and bruises from COREROC/Ashley Voss whipping us with floggers dipped in paint, marks on our bodies that would linger for days/weeks. It continues to be one of the most intense performances I have ever done, and I did it with/for CoCo. I have continued to perform in TRAUMA every year since then. Performing together was surreal and a total genderfuck: CoCo is this intensely muscular body wearing combat boots and I am next to her, long and lean, in six-inch heels; we were both wearing gas masks. I like to think that we brought something queer/genderqueer to the TRAUMA stage, that together/alongside one another, we brought contemporary dance to a non-traditional space, and performed bodies that do not readily conform with the normative expectations for what gendered bodies should be. I know I felt visible because I was dancing next to her.
A month later, CoCo had an event at Feverhead called “Afternoon Delight,” a kind of mixed-media casual art event, with live music and visual art and dancing. She asked me to read an essay that I had written called “Who/How I?” We didn’t know at the time that two years later, this essay would be published on NPR’s This I Believe web archive. I thought this one public reading constituted the life and impact of that writing, and sharing it in public was a gift that CoCo gave me. We ended up dancing together that afternoon; it seems like we always end up dancing together.
In 2012, CoCo decided to create an event modeled on events that she used to produce in Texas (I think?) called STUPID CUPID, an alternative Valentine’s party. She asked me to contribute a performance, and I staged a piece called cuddle which I had first performed in U.Turn Art Space in Cincinnati as an homage to the piece by the same title originally performed by artists Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens. This piece involved installing a full sized mattress in what was then the gallery space at Feverhead. Over the course of the evening, I cuddled with partygoers for seven minute intervals, in solos, pairs, and trios. We may have had one quartet? I think I cuddled with around forty people that night. But one of the first people was CoCo. We were very quiet. Some people talk when they cuddle. Some want to chat or share intimate details or ask questions; we just rested together, for seven minutes, before the party really got going.
Shortly there after (maybe a week?), I hosted my first queer porn screening at Feverhead. I had attempted to have a queer porn screening in multiple other venues in the city, and it had never come together. CoCo offered me the space. It was an opportunity to bring more visibility to work that is already being done in pornography to bring visibility to more bodies, sexes, sexualities, and genders. We screened the work of Shine Louise Houston, Madison Young, and Courtney Trouble, all queer/feminist pornographers committed to ethical productions and ethical representations of bodies, people, and their sexualities. This was the first of two porn screenings that I have had at Feverhead.
The screenings were both followed by conversations in which a room full of people talked about their perceptions of pornography, sex, sexualities, what it means to be queer, what it means to be trans, how to stimulate the g-spot, what it means to produce ethical representations of sex and bodies, and the sheer excitement of seeing other people have sex in ways that you perhaps have never imagined. Feverhead has been an incredible space for many people and for may purposes, but hosting those queer porn screenings/conversations were pivotal for me: through those events, Columbus became more of the city where I wanted to live. I know I’m not the only one who feels like Columbus is a better place to live because Feverhead is here.
Sometime that spring, CoCo was training for a 24-hour or multi-day performance. She had a (I think) four hour performance in which people were invited to drop by for any amount of time throughout the afternoon. I stopped by for a bit. I ended up dancing with CoCo while DJ Moxy made sound with us live in the space. It was not the first time I had danced to Moxy’s music, but it was maybe the first time I had danced with CoCo to Moxy’s music. It would not be the last. I have lost track of how many times and the different places where we have danced so hard while Moxy dj’ed that we sweated through all of our clothes and closed down the bar, soaking wet and completely alight. We had no way of knowing that over a year later, the three of us and others would be grooving through a yoga practice that might be one of the most transformative physical experiences of my life thus far (also at Feverhead), or that we would be standing together on Gay Street watching Way Yes at the Independents Day Festival, or dancing into another sweaty mess together at the Columbus RED Party.
That autumn—2012—CoCo premiered a new dance called FROM ONE FOOT TO THE OTHER: what was once digital is dead & now lives on as a dance with They Might Be Dancers Too (Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann), with appearances by They Might Be Dancers (Noelle Chun, Nicole Garlando, Lindsay Caddle LaPointe, Noah Demland, Leigh Lotocki, CoCo Loupe) and Karen Mozingo, with original music by Counterfeit Madison and Noah Demland. This was the dance that her blog became, the blog that I read before coming to grad school. It became a zine and it became a dance, made with and for three adult dancers—Zachariah Baird, Counterfeit Madison, and Eve Hermann—who had only begun dancing months earlier. I have written at length about that piece here, and if you have time, I hope you follow the tangent to read about that piece and come back here.
[There's so much I'm leaving out. There's so much I'm forgetting. There was the time that I desperately wanted to present my research at the Ecosex Symposium II in San Francisco and I did not get the travel grant I applied for and CoCo sponsored my travel so that I could present my research, where I continued to collaborate with Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens, about whom I am writing part of my dissertation, who first performed the cuddle piece to which I performed in homage, where I met Jiz Lee who performed in the queer porn that I would eventually screen in Feverhead, where I stayed with Karl Cronin who CoCo introduced to me years earlier and about whom I am also now writing in my dissertation. And the quarter that CoCo taught technique at OSU and I took her dance class again, six or seven or eight years after I had first taken her classes in Baton Rouge. And that CoCo performed with the Velvet Hearts before I did, and I watched her performing with this burlesque company on the stage of Wall Street years before I would perform with them on that same stage. And dancing into a sweaty mess at HEATWAVE. And the time we were both part of the Noble Peach Awards, and I gave Eileen Galvin the award for Biggest Genderfuck, and CoCo called the two of us goddesses, and she was given an award for—I think—most likely to dance into exhaustion, and I was so excited to be part of a community of people who would show up and celebrate and honor these kinds of people and accomplishments. And watching one another perform more times than either one of us could possibly count. And more.]
In the spring of 2013, I created a dance for the first FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival based on a solo that CoCo had choreographed that I had watched again and again on an old VHS tape of a concert called Loupe’d in Baton Rouge. CoCo let me use/adapt her choreography for this solo, choreography that was too difficult for my body to dance, choreography that had to be slowed down and altered to fit my body and to function as burlesque. Somewhere in what the choreography became, our bodies met (again). I made a video from footage that CoCo shot so that there could be a video component that approximated an idea that CoCo had for the original piece that had never been realized. She met me in a warehouse in Franklinton, and videoed me dancing this solo that I had made from her solo; in the final performance, the video was projected on five screens surrounding the audience at Wall Street Night Club while I performed the solo live on stage. This is the video that was projected, CoCo videoing me dancing the solo made from her solo:
There’s so much more to tell, about sitting on a couch at Impero and exchanging mantras to mend our broken hearts while clutching mala beads as spring became summer. About all the dances and classes and collaborations through which CoCo has made Columbus what it is, for which I was not present, for which I cannot account. This is, after all, an impossible trace. It’s all fragments and gaps and memories and forgettings. There are people who maybe should have appeared in these traces that have not, and tangents that I maybe should have followed. There are so many other accounts that could be written.
This autumn—2013—we knew CoCo would be moving back to Baton Rouge.
She also started this Friday night class called Grooveasana, a yoga/movement improvisation hybrid class the danced in and out of asana, that found asana and transitions between asana as we danced around them. I can’t completely explain why this practice has been one of the most fulfilling/generative practices in my life…it has something to do with my long-time yoga practice providing a trusted preparation and container for wherever else my curiosity might take me/my body. For many weeks, we were still trying to figure out exactly what it was we were doing, how to go about a loosely structure yoga asana practice that could dissolve into grooving and dancing and exploration and then easily transition back into savasana/relaxation. Sometimes Moxy dj’ed. And we found our groove, again and again and again, in different ways, along different paths.
But I don’t want to diminish the significance that it was CoCo leading the way, and my earliest experiences in dancing were following CoCo’s lead, as a teenager taking dance classes in Baton Rouge, following her lead to OSU and Columbus, OH, following her throughout this community, in and out of Feverhead in so many ways, and through this groovy familiar/unfamiliar yoga/dancing space.
It is no exaggeration to say that I don’t know where I would be if I had not followed CoCo, all the traces she left for me and in my dancing body/life; I know that I would not be here. I don’t know how my body would move; I would have never considered moving to Columbus or going to OSU; I’m not sure if I would have made the dances that I’ve made; I know I would not have danced the dances that I’ve danced. When and where would I have ever had queer porn screenings or cuddling performance art or watched my loved ones new and old performing together for the very first time or grooved my way in and out of yoga?
I have never lived in this city without CoCo, and Columbus will always be what it is to me because of CoCo having lived here with me.
But this is really just a concrete metaphor for something vastly more true: I have never lived the life I am living—and dancing and writing and teaching and loving—without CoCo, and it will always be what it is to me because CoCo has been braided in and through it for so long.
This is an insufficient trace. I can’t seem to put words to what it felt like, all these years, the ebbs and flows of inspiration and elation and hesitation and contemplation and perplexity and frustration and grief and laughter and seeing each other again after longer periods of time and the overwhelming sense of recognition, of having been seen by another for so long, and so much delight and so much relief and so much love… There is so much I can feel slipping just beyond the edges of the screen, and what I’ve written cannot begin to do justice to this person I love. But I needed to try to record what I could fathom of these years, pieced together from memory and Facebook. There’s a part of me—the part of me who is a writer, the part of me who writes in order to show appreciation, in order to extend the duration of that which I appreciate—that is already grieving the loss of being able to write about CoCo and her work, at least for the foreseeable future. And here I’ve found myself writing a trace of her/our dancing life/lives perhaps as a way of holding in the present—and into the future—the tangle of that dancing and writing that I will miss so very much.
Our lives will continue to braid, in Baton Rouge, beyond; the trace certainly does not stop here.
[Friday, December 13, CoCo is offering a gratitude and farewell concert at Feverhead: https://www.facebook.com/events/391730200961595/
On the program:
Noah Demland's "Timelines"
Obstinate Robinson AKA Counterfeit Madison AKA Sharona Sharona Sha-ro-na
Corbezzolo - Marie Corbo, Philip Kim, and Noah Demland
"Very, Very, Very": A new trio by CoCo Loupe with music by Noah Demland for Nicole Garlando, Leigh Lotocki, and Amanda Platt
New video work by Nicole Garlando w/ photography by Eve Hermann
"re: addressing": A solo (CoCo) bon-voyage-dancing-gift
Friday, December 13, 2013
Feverhead: 1199 Goodale Blvd, Columbus, OH, 43212
Tea and BYOB party follows performance.
Free admission but donations happily accepted.]
Filed under: culture, Dance | Tags: burlesque, BurlesqueBitch.com, coco loupe, FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival, Provocatique.com, queer burlesque, Robert Walker, sexuality, velvet hearts, Viva Valezz! and the Velvet Hearts
Last week I had the opportunity to speak to Sofie Clemmensen’s Freshman Seminar in the Department of Dance at OSU. Sofie had invited me to talk about blogging (and now I’m blogging about talking about blogging—so meta) and writing artist’s statements. In addition to these main speaking points, I also talked about web presence more generally, the social constitution of identity (we are all always more than who we are to ourselves; both on the web and off, who we are is an aggregate of content the we have generated and content/parameters generated by others), identifying and articulating one’s contribution to the field, and some of my own work/reasons for being in dance. In the discussion of my own work, I talked a little about the work I’ve been doing this past year performing as a principle dancer in the queer burlesque company Viva Valezz! and the Velvet Hearts. I realized after the talk that I haven’t posted anything about that work here on my blog, and so I wanted to offer a brief account of my time with the company over the last year (plus).
I joined the Velvet Hearts in August 2012. I had never considered being a burlesque performer before then, but when I was invited to audition, it made sense. I had been going to burlesque shows for years, specifically queer burlesque shows, because I was interested in the staging of eroticism, the celebration of bodies, and the reconfiguring of the “traditional” (straight) strip show for queer performers and audiences. I was excited by the empowerment of watching women stripping for women, and how the orientations of these crowds seemed to influence the possibilities for the form that the burlesque took, such as gender ambiguity, androgyny, or genderfuck, overt lesbian content, and the way the audience related to the performers. At Velvet Hearts shows, I was always so moved by the overwhelming gratitude that the audience displayed; rather than demanding or catcalling performers to take things off, these crowds cheered and tipped when clothing was removed. When I joined the Velvet Hearts, it was in part because this was a culture that I wanted to be a part of, a culture that feels sex-positive, feminist, queer, and body-positive, right here in Columbus, Ohio. As so much of my own choreography and research interests engage directly with bodies, sexuality, sex, and porn, I was also interested in how choreographing and performing in this genre would open new avenues of exploration for my work. Going in, I knew that I was approaching burlesque as a choreographer/dancer coming from the contemporary/post-modern dance world. My interests were in the choreographic tropes and principles of burlesque—delay, anticipation, and reveal, the spectators’ gaze—the vocabularies through which “sex” and “sexy” are signified—things like shimmies, bumps, grinds, sustained, lingering touch, etc., as well as normative and non-normative gender codes—and the role of costuming in choreography; in many ways, what you wear determines what you do. The fashion of burlesque—boas and satin gloves and zippers and corsets and bras and pasties, etc.—prescribes certain parameters for movement, not only the gestures that are performed, but the sequencing on those gestures (the order in which articles of clothing are removed). In each of the pieces I have created over the last year, I have been experimenting with these formal properties of burlesque: how long can one sustain anticipation before a reveal? if I am only wearing one article of clothing (a sari, for instance, as in my solo “Like This”), is it possible to take six minutes to remove it, and what choreography does that costuming enable? are there ways to critique the gaze of the spectator—by which I mean, make it visible or appreciable as a certain norm, not critique as in criticize or demean—heightening the spectator’s self-awareness of their own gaze and desires to see, while also reversing the gaze, giving the spectator the sensation of being viewed or seen? what is “minimalism” in burlesque? if I reduce the choreography to only a few actions—a grind, a shimmy—repeated indefinitely, does the significance of those actions change? does their erotic potential/function shift into something else? do they become de-naturalized, and does the de-naturalization of certain erotic tropes open the parameters for what might then be appreciable/recognizable as erotic? in what ways does burlesque participate in what I think of as the larger project of dance, the exploration and presentation of what bodies can do, thus what bodies can be? if burlesque is an exploration/presentation of what [more] bodies can be, is it possible to consider burlesque to be participating in the politics of the life and livability of bodies, as it relates to sexuality, visibility, and recognition? These are some (not all) of the questions that I’ve been exploring in my choreography within the queer burlesque scene. I don’t have video footage of most of my performances, but I have been very grateful for the work of a number of photographers who have captured moments from my performances over the last year (credited below).
I’ll try to be better about posting about upcoming performances and shows, but if you are interested in this work, feel free to follow the Velvet Hearts on Facebook; all of our performances are announced there.
This video was produced as part of a solo I performed in the FIERCE International Queer Burlesque Festival. The piece was performed at Wall Street Night Club on May 4, 2013. This video was projected on screens on all sides of the audience while I performed the same solo on stage, facing away from the audience. This was an experiment in heightening the sensation of voyeurism and surveillance that is implicit within the structure of a burlesque performance. The choreography was derived from a solo originally choreographed by CoCo Loupe, who also shot the footage for the video.
Filed under: Dance | Tags: amon tobin, christeen stridsberg, columbus moving company, corinne steger, counterfeit madison, eric falck, gabby stefura, garden theater, heather stiff, in house, james sargent, jason brabbs, jeff fouch, justin fitch, short north stage, zachariah baird
The production involved three different dance pieces, with guest musical performances by Counterfeit Madison.
The first piece, “Staticsystem,” introduces four dancers of CMCo, Eric Falck, Jeff Fouch, Gabby Stefura, and Christeen Stridsberg. The relationship between these four dancers evolves like the formation of a pack, but rather than a pack populated by wild animals, this pack is comprised of arms and legs sweeping and swiping through the air and across the floor, deep squats and lunges that rock back and forth, sudden bursts of forceful, frenetic activity, and moments of shared, sustained, focused articulation of their joints. Actions, gestures, and movement qualities spread through the group from one body to the next, the flexible cohesion of this pack developing over time through the migration and gestation of these movement contagions. Throughout the short track by Amon Tobin, the four alternately cling to one another and break away for brief moments of dancing solo, being absorbed again and again into the group until finally dissipating to into the backstage wings.
At the start of the second piece, Counterfeit Madison comes onto the stage out of the audience, her face hidden behind the hood of her sweater. Not being able to see her face lends her two songs a strange anonymity despite the soulful style of her playing and personal quality of the lyrics she sings. After her second song, six dancers emerge from the audience and make their way to the stage. This piece, “Obstinate Trajectory,” is performed by students of the CMCo, Zachariah Baird, Jason Brabbs, Justin Fitch, James Sargent, Corinne Steger, and Heather Stiff, and accompanied by Counterfeit Madison. At the start of the piece, the dancers stand at the outer edges of the stage; each one moves in their own ways towards the center—towards one another—and back away to the edges, some moving in quick and startled patterns, others as if they are exploring how it is that they might move moment by moment, and one walking in slow, concentrated, patient steps. Later, they move in a line from stage left to stage right, and their formation allows me to appreciate the various ways in which their actions come into brief and unanticipated alignments with one another as well as the many and varied differences between them. It seems to me a physical exploration of co-existence, how we move towards and away from one another, and how we stay together—not in spite of, but inclusive of our differences and fleeting similarities.
The final piece of the production, “Living Rooms,” again brings the dancers of CMCo to the stage, now set with an area rug and four pieces of living room furniture. Each dancer enters the space one at a time, and each in turn reconfigures the arrangement of the furniture, rotating and pushing and dragging and overturning the ottoman, end table, and two chairs. Over the course of the dance, the four performers attempt to exhaust the possible orientations, functions, and challenges of both the furniture pieces and one another. In a smattering of solos, duets, and group movements, the four wrestle and grasp at one another, impede one another’s actions, partner and lift and carry one another, watch and are watched by one another, and occasionally they dance in canons or unison set choreography. At its most subtle, I feel drawn by their movements into the intimate proximity of this living room space; at its most exuberant, their movement seems to fling them to its edges, like fervent attempts at escape that take them no where. If there is a unifying characteristic of “Living Rooms,” it is that these four figures will be drawn again and again into the folds, grips, embrace, gaze, and intentions of one another. No matter how many times any one of them deconstructs the space or reconfigures the bodies and furniture inside of it, there is always someone there to remake it—and each other—into their own design. The possibilities of these living rooms are not limitless: incessantly, inexplicably, these four are drawn back into one another, and however they attempt to reinvent the living room, this is where they remain.
I am delighted that the Garden Theater and the Short North Stage are continuing to include dance in their production seasons, and I look forward to continuing to see more dance, more of the Columbus Moving Company, and the work of more local choreographers and dance artists on this historic stage.
Filed under: culture | Tags: fall fashion preview, fashion, scarlette magazine, student bodies, student fashion, sullivant hall, the ohio state university, wexner center for the arts
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Scarlette Fall Fashion Preview on the Wexner Center for the Arts Plaza.
Scarlette Magazine is the Ohio State University’s first fashion magazine, released twice a year. Friday’s runway show previewed looks from the magazine’s upcoming Fall Issue.
Taking place on the Wexner Plaza, Sullivant Hall, currently under renovation, served as the backdrop for the event. As I sat in the overbearing sunlight waiting for the show to start, the DJ blasting sounds across the plaza, I thought about how the context and setting were already coloring my experience of what was yet to unfold. I came to graduate school in 2008 for my MFA in Choreography. Sullivant Hall was my second home for three years. To date, I have probably spent more hours in that building than anywhere else in Columbus. I have danced, choreographed, studied, taught, and shared so much inside those walls. But over the last two years, the Department of Dance has been displaced, spread throughout a handful of buildings across campus while Sullivant was gutted and rebuilt from the inside out. This fall the Department will gradually begin to move back into our spaces, along with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, the Department of Arts Administration, Education, and Policy, the Advanced Center for Computer Art and Design, the Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise and the Barnett Theatre; the new building will no doubt hold wonders untold. As I sat in the sun anticipating this fashion preview on the OSU campus, I felt suspended before renovation, somewhere between a manifold of memories of what once was and all the promise that is suggested by what is yet to come.
Then the show began. Photographers, maybe five or six, hovered around the crowd and at either end of the runway. The first model was one of my former students, wearing a palette of golds, khakis, and beiges, a kind of sarong wrap skirt, a lace midriff camisole, and golden lips. Gold was a theme throughout a number of looks (nineteen in all?), a kind of anchor that shimmered across the surface. I am not a fashion writer, and I cannot pretend to be; what has lingered with me days later was the event as a performance, how the event enacted a version of fashion within a particular choreography, within a particular context, and with particular bodies. The choreography, with minimal deviation, involved a long single pass down the cement runway at one side of the plaza, a pose, another pose, and a second long pass back up the runway, affording the audience the opportunity to apprehend, accumulate, and appreciate the bold and subtle details of each look. The pace of the steps was driven mostly by the music of the DJ, with only one or two models experimenting with different layers of tempo, differing the rhythms of their steps. Throughout a show that seemed run through with individuality and personal expression, the rhythm of the runway had an odd regulatory effect, these bodies falling into step with tempos being given to them by the DJ. This is of course not uncommon for runways, but perhaps that is something to be considered: the runway as ambivalently given over to both individual expression and a—can I call it disciplinary?—regulation of bodies. Fashion [shows] as a form of corporeal discipline? This all collapsed momentarily when the sound system overheated and shut off, leaving the models to walk the runway to no given beat, only the busy sounds of the Friday campus outdoors. After the initial flurry of, “What happened? Is something wrong?” settled in the crowd, there was an almost John Cage-ian quality to watching these models walk with whatever sounds there were, as if they were simply walking through daily life.
And this is an important part of how the show has lived with me over the last few days: what it had to do with daily life. These were students’ bodies on display in an outdoor public space on the campus where we live our daily lives. That we were all sweating together in the intense sunlight—the audience and the models alike—made this liveliness tangible. Behind the models was Sullivant Hall. Pedestrians—possibly their professors and classmates—stopped throughout the show to take a look at what was happening. I myself have walked across the Wexner Plaza more times than I can imagine, on my way to teach or take class; I’ve danced with those trees, walked that cement runway, noticed the bodies of other people moving around and alongside one another in loose choreographies, and in ways that are likely both similar and distinct, I’m sure most people sitting there or walking that runway have lived portions of their lives on that plaza. But it wasn’t just the context the gestured to everyday life; it was the fashion itself. I can’t go into detail about every look—there was a black dress with what seemed to be white metallic paint on the front side, worn by a model with severe black eyebrows penciled in and carrying a candle; there was a beige open back halter shirt draped with a loose harness made from ropes and tassels, a kind of baroque suggestion of a BDSM aesthetic—but what I noted was that most of the garments were what I would call found and/or altered pieces. This was not haute couture, and it was not big budget. Most of the models wore their hair in ways that likely isn’t that dissimilar to how they wear it any other day, and most of the shoes were what I would think of as a “best fit,” the shoes that worked best given what people had to work with. In short, this was a student fashion show. And herein was its brilliance: it was not a display of the unattainable, garments fabricated from far-off fantasies and aspirations. It was a parade of looks cohering around several tangible themes—gold, black and white, the juxtaposition of athletic wear and formal wear, among others—all of which were imaginable and realizable by and on the bodies of students, in some ways that echoed currents trends and aesthetics in RTW and couture fashion lines, and in other ways that seemed to emerge from the possibilities suggested by these found pieces themselves. For me, this was a glimpse of what a campus like ours could look like, with students experimenting with what they have in order to make something new and different and exciting. By the end of the show, the backdrop of Sullivant, in the process of renovation, somewhere between what it was and what it could be, felt very appropriate.
Scarlette Magazine makes its mission “to showcase campus individuality and beauty, presenting new ideas and exciting photography both to the Ohio State University campus and to the world.” If the presentation of both new ideas and the potential for beauty and individuality on campus within their Fall Fashion Preview is anything to go by, I would say that they are serving that mission. And I look forward to seeing the forthcoming Fall Issue.
For more information about Scarlette Magazine, its staff, past and current issues, and writings about fashion, visit:
These are just a few stills from a photoshoot I did recently with Ric Petry for a piece he is exhibiting later this summer. The final piece will involve a video incorporated into a blown glass sculptural object. I’ll post more info about the exhibit when it becomes available, but I was really pleased with these stills from the shoot: