Dance is a beautiful, inspiring art form — it is a physical manifestation of our innermost desires and emotions, a way for our bodies to express what we otherwise would, or could, not. For many people, it is a sanctuary of creativity and self-exploration.

Meanings and Makings of Queer Dance

Tomorrow through Saturday
Various locations
From $65

But for some people, dance — especially ballet — can be an intimidating practice. With this in mind, the “Meanings and Makings of Queer Dance” conference was established to help alleviate the pressures of traditional ballet classes for LGBT individuals, as well as to explore the ways in which dance and gender relate to each other on a larger scale.

“Meanings and Makings of Queer Dance” is a special-topics conference led by the Congress on Research in Dance, a nonprofit organization focused on uniting dance professionals. The conference will bring individuals involved in LGBT studies and dance studies together in Ann Arbor to see how the two disciplines can work with and benefit from each other. Developed by co-chairs Clare Croft and Peter Sparling, the conference will showcase performers, panels, workshops, movies and discussions on dance and gender relations.

Croft, a School of Music, Theatre & Dance associate professor and post-doctoral fellow in dance, said she was inspired by two previous conferences at the University, “Queer Shame” and “Doing Queer Studies Now.” She wanted to host the conference to start a dialogue about the place of gender in dance while establishing the importance of dance in other academic disciplines.

“While Michigan’s dance department is extremely strong and well thought of, dance isn’t necessarily something people think of as being important for the University,” Croft said. “Part of the idea was thinking about a topic a bunch of people care about in a range of disciplines and bringing all of these people who are interested in queer studies together inside of the dance department.”

Croft explained that though there is a stereotype about people within the arts identifying as LGBT, she wants to investigate the full spectrum of gender and sexuality present within the dance community.

“There’s a lot of homophobia in the way that people talk about dance,” Croft said. “That men are supposedly more effeminate in dance, which is not true — there’s a huge range of masculinity and femininity in dance … I think if the only way you can imagine a bunch of people coming together is in male-female partnerships, then that really limits your options as an artist.”

“If part of the work of art is to figure out how to think differently and think broadly, it seems that thinking about queer ideas and queer politics might be a way to just see the possibilities in the dance space really differently,” she added.

According to Croft, dance can be a haven for the LGBT community because it allows people to come together and get a sense of their true identities.

“(Dance) is a way … not to just learn about something you don’t know, but to actually experience another world and have to think differently, and I think that that’s potentially really powerful,” she said. “To recognize with whom you identify with, with whom do you not identify with, what does that mean about who you are.”

The conference has four main components: dance workshops, paper panels, screen-dance viewing and live performances. Choreographer and MT&D visiting dance instructor Andee Scott will be teaching a workshop at the conference titled “Gay Ballet,” which aims to provide a setting for members of the LGBT community to learn ballet without the traditional gender expectations of the dance.

Scott said she thought of the idea for “Gay Ballet” a number of years ago, after friends expressed an interest in ballet but were too intimidated to attend regular classes.

“Ballet is very traditional in many ways,” Scott said. “There are a lot of structures and social pressures set up around ballet and the teaching of ballet and the watching of ballet, so this was an opportunity to make it accessible to everybody. It wasn’t that only gays could come, but it was kind of our joke that gays were prioritized in this situation.”

Scott said the conference is important because it creates a discourse for people to question who they are and what their role is in society.

“I don’t want to make it too overblown, but it’s about talking about queerness and understanding what goes on in dance and those questions around ‘what is queer dance?’ ” she said. “I think that there’s also this kind of ‘calling it what it is’ kind of a thing and creating a space for a potentially marginalized population. It just opens a conversation.”

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