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Washington Blade 2003

Washington Blade

On the dance floor
By: Brian Moylan

There are three kinds of dancers on the floor at any given dance club: the shirtless “look at me” dancers on a box, the “don’t look at me” dancers on the edge of the dance floor, and the “I don’t care if you look at me” dancers flailing about aimlessly whenever they please.

The crew at “Songs of My Life” a new dance exhibit at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, will definitely be in the first category- the audience included.

The program, choreographed by gay dancer Daniel Phoenix Singh, a mater’s of fine arts candidate in Maryland’s dance department, will consist of choreographed numbers inspired by dancing that happens in nightclubs, interspersed with moments when everyone- dancers as well as audience members- will be dancing just like they’re at a new hotspot.

“There’s really no boundary between the two, so the audience won’t know whether it’s a performance or a social event or a social event with performances,” says Singh, who moved here from Indian 12 years ago.

Singh, 31, can often be seen grooving at Chaos or at the Lucky Bar on Monday nights, a straight bar that he and his gay friends have co-opted on that night in order to dance.

He started training as a dancer at 21, when he took a ballet class to fulfill a physical education requirement at the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus. He enjoyed the class so much that he majored in dance and information technology.

As everyone who has ever been to a gay bar, a circuit party or even a small house party with a boom box knows, dancing is very much part of the gay scene.

“A club is the first place most young gays and lesbians fins a safe place,” Singh says. “Music and dance have a very unique place in the gay community because a lot of people use it as form of expression and a form of rebellion at times. It’s not only a social space but a political space.”

The choreographed segments in the piece will depict, through dance the social and romantic relationships that are inherent in any nightclub settings, including relationships between two men at gay establishments. The venue will be set up in a cabaret style, with few tables and chairs and the featured numbers will be performed throughout the venue rather than onstage, to further blue the lines between club life and more formal dancing.

“I don’t think we perceive this kind of dancing and how much it affects or is affected by society. It never would have occurred to me to go in that directions,” says Meriam Rosen, a professor of dance at Maryland who knows Singh’s work. “it encompasses more than dancing, we’re dealing with a whole lifestyle and all the kinds of attitudes that develop out of that scene.”

Some of those attitudes can be attributed to the intake of alcohol and other substances that often occurs at gay clubs and is something that Singh has taken into account.

“I was thinking about altered states of dancing- such as trances dancing in Asian cultures and American Indians, who dance until they’re exhausted and in an altered state of mind,” Singh says.

Because of such activities and because popular dancing doesn’t occur in a formal setting, many in the academic dance world are quick to dismiss less formal forms of expression.

Rosen says Singh’s innovative ideas are worth examining more closely.

“I think this is a different thing, it’s looking at dance from a popular culture point of view and those forms are evolving, so that’s another interesting thing,” she says.