Moving Tribute

Sean Dorsey Dance marks D.C. debut by honoring LGBT elders

The day after Sean Dorsey’s very first dance at dance school, the school’s director “informed me that my work, quote, ‘made people very uncomfortable.'” This, despite the fact that “immediately after the performance, I got all kinds of love and praise from local choreographers and dancers and all these people, most of whom were straight.”

Dorsey didn’t let the director’s discomfort dissuade him. The San Francisco-based dancer/choreographer has gone on to make it his mission to “bring transgender and queer bodies and stories into modern and contemporary dance,” and in ways that “are not abstract or pretentious, [but] powerful and moving and completely accessible to all audiences.”

The Secret History of Love

The Secret History of Love

(Photo by Lydia Daniller)

His nearly decade-old company Sean Dorsey Dance is now set to make its D.C. debut with The Secret History of Love, a “full-throttle dance exploration” into how earlier queer generations “managed to survive and find love” — despite rampant disapproval and harassment.

“We tend to really desexualize our elders, even LGBT elders,” he says, “when in fact everything about making space for love and relationships, and bathhouses — you name it — those doors were open and created by our elders.” Dorsey developed the narrative piece through a two-year LGBT Elders Oral History Project. He performs it with three of his company dancers, as well as singer Shawna Virago, a transgender woman.

Dorsey, who was “assigned female at birth” 41 years ago in Vancouver, B.C., has been living as a proud transgender man for decades. “I am very blessed that I have a wonderfully supportive family,” he says. But whatever happened to that school director who found Dorsey’s work so uncomfortable? “She actually withheld my graduation diploma,” he says. But Dorsey got the last laugh. “You know, the school since closed, so that might just kind of be the karma working itself out.”

Dance Place presents Sean Dorsey Dance Friday, May 9, and Saturday, May 10, at 8 p.m., at Joe’s Movement Emporium, 3309 Bunker Hill Road, Mount Rainier, Md. Tickets are $22. Call 202-269-1600 or visit danceplace.org or joesmovement.org.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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