By: Brook Rosini/Special to The Rainbow Times—
BOSTON, Mass. — A number of organizations in the Boston area offer queer-friendly or LGBT-specific dance classes and dance nights in a variety of styles, ranging from Country and Western line dancing to ballroom classes, swing, hip hop, and DJ dance nights.
“When queer and straight folks dance and party together, hours of political work are accomplished in a deep way just by swinging out on the dance floor together, melting away some fears, and getting to know each other one dance step at a time,” explained OUT to Dance instructor and Swingtime instructor and committee member Liz Nania.
Some of the dance organizations are LGBT-focused groups that also welcome straight people and allies, like Gays for Patsy, a volunteer-run nonprofit group for Country and Western enthusiasts that also makes donations to other nonprofits. Another is Boston Open DanceSport, an LGBT business that trains individuals in competitive ballroom dance styles. Other groups, like OUT to Dance and Swingtime, offer queer-friendly dance classes and programs, as well as events especially for those who identify as LGBT and their friends and allies. [pullquote]“When queer and straight folks dance and party together, hours of political work are accomplished in a deep way just by swinging out on the dance floor together, melting away some fears, and getting to know each other one dance step at a time,” explained OUT to Dance instructor and Swingtime instructor and committee member Liz Nania.[/pullquote]
Bella Luna Restaurant and Milky Way Lounge take a different tack, offering rotating lesbian, gay, and LGBT live music and DJ dance nights monthly, as well as a popular open mic night for burgeoning poets and performers that is dedicated to the LGBTQI communities of color and their allies. Carol Downs, the owner of the establishment, describes the programs as “open to all and offer[ing] a safe environment for socializing, dancing, performance, and fun.”
Beyond providing a welcoming environment, many of these organizations see themselves as doing important work in the LGBT and straight communities — from donating to other nonprofits to uniting the communities through the common language of dance. Boston Open DanceSport Director Kalin Mitov expressed a strong belief in the ability of LGBT and LGBT plus straight dance classes to break down barriers within the LGBT community, and between the LGBT and straight communities.
“Same-sex partner dancing has incredibly far-reaching implications to unite people under the shared belief that tolerance of one another’s differences is not enough: diversity must be celebrated,” said Mitov.
DESPITE their focus on different dance styles, staff members and participants of the various dance programs pointed to many of the same features and benefits of attending LGBT dance nights: a place for members of the LGBT community to feel comfortable and be themselves in a safe environment; the chance to build confidence and fellowship; and the opportunity to choose who leads and who follows regardless of traditional gender roles — a unique element of same-sex dance classes.
Jane Gillette, who takes classes at OUT to Dance, commented on how same-sex dance classes enable partners to choose their roles depending on what suits them best.
“One of the interesting things about learning to dance in a GLBT space is that we get a chance to choose whether we want to dance as lead, follow, or perhaps switch it up depending on the dance,” Gillette said. “For straight people, with very few exceptions, men lead and women follow, even if their personalities don’t fit those roles.”
Tim Bussey, who also participates in classes at OUT to Dance, agreed.
“I think this is a unique part of LGBT dance classes and a reason why I feel that I have been able to progress faster than I would’ve in a traditional dance class,” said Bussey.
Paul Weeks, who has been taking classes at OUT to Dance for three years, spoke to both the friendly environment of the classes as well as the benefit of interaction between the LGBT and straight communities through dance.
“The value of these classes is really tremendous,” Weeks said. “From the LGBT viewpoint, it provides a safe environment to pursue something you really love to do. No one judges you and the common bond of dancing and having fun really ties people together. For the straight community, mixed classes really show everyone that there is a common bond between people no matter what differences might exist.”
Sandy Bailey, a regular participant in Swingtime and OUT to Dance classes, agreed with Weeks.
“It is such a welcoming environment,” said Bailey. “Straight allies have been in some of the classes, and that’s worked out fine, but it’s also really nice as an LGBT person to have a totally safe place to learn and dance with others with no worries that anyone’s attitude will get in the way of learning and having a good time.”
Bob Sweeney, president of Gays for Patsy, also offered insight into the strong community bond LGBT dance nights engender.
“There is something magical about seeing folks of all orientations mixing it up on a dance floor,” Sweeney said. “Breaking down social norms where traditional roles are either assumed or not — it is quite exciting. With line dancing you can see how even when everyone is dancing the same dance steps, there is support within the group as well as the ability to be an individual. You can hear one of us softly calling out moves to help someone just learning while you see a confident dancer next to them twirling and improvising away. It’s this support of one another, yet allowing folks to flower, that I find wonderful.”
Each organization has a number of upcoming and regular dance classes, programs or events for the LGBT community.
Bella Luna Restaurant and Milky Way Lounge partners with several local LGBT promoters including Kristen Porter of Dyke Night, Brent Covington of Boyfriends, DJ Stella from La Boum, Jha D from If You Can Feel It, You Can Speak It, and Bernadette Buck from Dirty Water Saloon. For a full calendar of events, visit www.milkywayjp.com.
Boston Open DanceSport offers same-sex ballroom dance classes and competitions. Find out more at www.bostonopendancesport.com.
Gays for Patsy is a Member Club of the International Association of Gay/Lesbian Country Western Dance Clubs and offers two-step, swing and line dancing for the LGBT and straight community. Learn more at www.gaysforpatsy.org.
OUT to Dance offers LGBT classes in Latin, swing and ballroom styles, plus group classes open to all in swing, salsa, ballroom, Latin, Hip Hop, wedding dance, and more. For information about classes and scheduling, visit www.OUTtoDance.com.
Swingtime offers swing, Latin, and ballroom dancing for the LGBT community and its allies, and will celebrate its 25th anniversary March 1, 2014. Find out more at www.swingtimeboston.com.