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Sean Dorsey: Leaps and Bounds Toward Gender Nonconforming Dance

I have identified as a dancer longer than I have identified as a non-binary person. When I came to the realization of my gender identity a few years ago, I began to fully grasp the reality of identifying both with the dance and gender nonconforming communities. Because dance is historically an extremely gendered space focusing on stereotypically held ideas of femininity and masculinity, it becomes difficult, and at times scary, to be a person who rejects the binary.

Early last semester, I began to focus on the ways in which gender non-conforming people are portrayed (or not portrayed) in the dance world. I came across Sean Dorsey, a trans man who started his own modern dance company in San Francisco. Dorsey provides a wonderfully complex and important viewpoint that the rest of the dance community must begin to take into account. In regard to his status as the first and only trans modern choreographer, he explained in a 2010 interview with Kaitlyn Muriel Tikkun: “I don’t get to say ‘thank goodness for the trans dance community.’ I’m it.”

The fact that Dorsey is bringing issues of gender in dance to the spotlight has opened many people’s eyes to the importance of expanding dance to those beyond the labels of male and female. As I began to read more about Dorsey and his work, I became more and more confident that I, despite identifying as non-binary, could make my dreams of working in the professional dance world a reality.

Later in the semester, I was thrilled to learn that Dorsey would be coming to talk to my Intro to Dance Studies class. Listening to Dorsey talk about his works, goals and experiences, and being able to have a one-on-one conversation with him enforced, for me, that while the trans and gender non-conforming dance community may be extremely small, it exists and needs to be encouraged and grown.

Dorsey and his company will be performing their newest work “The Missing Generation” in San Francisco in May. It brings to life the voices of those lost in the early years of the AIDS epidemic and the impact their stories can have today. I would highly encourage anyone, regardless of experience with dance or dance viewing, to attend the performance if at all possible.

Not only does this performance send an impactful message to audiences, but by supporting Dorsey and his work, support goes to the recognition of gender non-conforming dancers. While I have seen many video clips from Dorsey’s shows, I can’t wait to experience the reality of his company in real time. The act of seeing live dancing, for me, is incredibly magical, and I’m sure that the added layer of opening gender discussions will only make the performance more of a unique experience.

There is a massive amount of work that must be done to truly include trans and non-binary people into the dance world. Sean Dorsey and his work are immensely important in furthering this cause and have provided at least one gender non-conforming dancer with the confidence to continue the art they love. Dorsey helped me come to fully accept my identities as a gender non-conforming dancer through his art, activism and stories. I’m incredibly glad to say that I now feel confident enough in my identities that I can continue working towards a gender inclusive dance world.