‘Boys in Trouble’ as an ode to queer masculinity

Sean Dorsey Dance Company explores the intersectionality of gender, masculinity, sexuality and race through dance and voice.

Choreographer Sean Dorsey began “Boys in Trouble” with swinging arms, conjuring a story rarely seen on the dance stage. Lights shone on five bodies in individual spotlights in V-formation. They moved in unison, exploring the performances of masculinity in their bodies through rough and smooth textured movement.

They reach up with palms pressed together, looking straight into the center. In an instant, their hands darted straight to their eyes like an arrow. At the forehead, the pressed palms split out and their eyes opened wide, arms stretched out. This movement showed exactly what “Boys in Trouble” aimed to do. Sean Dorsey choreographed pieces with his dancers that sent arrows straight to people’s eyes, opening the audience’s minds to the complexities of masculinity as a trans and queer man.

In the intro, Dorsey said in a pre-recorded monologue that he menstruated his way into masculinity, opening up on his perspective of masculinity as a trans man. It began comically with audience addresses and snarky remarks between the five dancers ranging in age, body type, dance experience, race and sexuality. It was refreshing and real because these were authentic stories shared through the bodies that lived them. Although, the heavy language and rhetoric on social issues may have gone over some people’s heads, they painted it in movement to make it easier to swallow.

The lights, designed by Clyde Sheets, helped tell the story and make each moment sharper. Dorsey talks about his experience riding the bus before taking hormones. He remarked about the constant stares he would get, but in this story he got to just look out the window and exist until two drunk men boarded the bus. His movement combined with the illuminated rectangle on the stage depicted how he felt suffocated knowing these men were about to hurt him for being trans. Two dancers went from corner to corner, until they were sitting in front of Dorsey and soon moving with him as he collapsed in the middle of the light.

“Guys like that need people like me,” he said. He began to question what our world would be like without these xenophobic men, or even without people for them to discriminate. They show masculinity against masculinity, revealing the spectrum it holds. They capture how masculinity is inhabited in trans and cisgendered bodies and they paint it so vividly and poignantly.

Just before intermission, the ensemble served a very queer and fierce piece combining modern, vogue and jazz to prove butch is everything and nothing at the same time. The costume, designed by Tiffany Amundson, utilized flannel in a more feminine wardrobe to butch up queer masculinity. It was so lively that it called for audience reaction.

The first half of the show provided a crash course in gender and gender performance. After intermission, the group immediately dove into the complexities of being a queer man and the intersectionality of race and sexuality. Dancer Will Woodward and Dorsey went into a deep discussion of problematic things white people say in a comedic bit in between movement.

What guided the movement following this moment is audio. In rehearsals, Dorsey pulled stories out of his dancers and recorded them either in conversations or off paper. His innovative use of sound and voice helped translate where there are limits in the body. Dancer Nol Simonse strippiedon stage and put on a dress and pointe shoes, traveling across the stage on pointe to the sound of his voice talking about the time he found his naked body humiliating.

The next moment a voiceover was used was in a duet with two black queer men. It began with dancer Arvejon Jones sharing how he is always seen as black first, not queer. Society will judge him first for his skin tone. As he introduced the power of queer black love, the stage shone bright. Woodward entered and the two lifted each other, equally shining in gold lighting. So bright, beautiful, the beauty of queer black love at the center. They danced in the joy of touch and of having someone else who understands what it is like to be a black queer man. I was reminded that this is a rarity, when it shouldn’t be.

Once again, they all swung their arms and conjured up their stories. They developed a movement vocabulary that runs throughout the entire show, guiding masculinity through its intricacies. Dorsey used movement as a form of conjuring and story-telling, opening up parts of his identity, along with the other dancers, in a way that was so vulnerable and free. These movements looked different every time as new information and realizations arose. There were moments of discovery and freedom in being everything they are, in being men. Their bodies collided in and out, ending in dancer Brian Fisher reaching up to the sky. This time these movements aren’t layered in self-hatred, but in self-love.