How This Classically Trained Dancer Became The Shit, Literally.

By Jamie Benson


Lights come up on a lone ballerina, innocently perched on stage. You recognize the scene, from one of the many Nutcrackers we inevitably endure, but this time it’s different somehow. After leaving her lofty throne, you see an elegant pointe shoe flush what was a toilet all along. And then, IT happens. A dancer, dressed as dung (head-to-pointed-toe), claws his way to the ballet beauty and incites a dance battle for the ages.

Photographer: Jeannette Vidalia, Bowel Beast: Jamie Benson, Ballerina: Shannon Grant, Costumer: Andrae Gonzalo, Venue: Highways Performance Space

This satire-drenched ballet, called Bowel Movement, was part of my first show as a choreographer. The whole thing, called Bathroom Follies, remains a seminal part of my strange dance revolution. Below, I’ll set the stage (pun intended) for how such a thing came to pass.

Fine Art vs. The Entertainment Industry

I’ve struggled to find a cozy spot within either the fine art or entertainment dominions of dance. I went from high school dance team celebrity to modern dancer at Seattle’s Cornish College of Art to post-modern dancer with the Rudy Perez Ensemble in LA. Being clueless, young, and living in LA, there were plenty of auditions for commercials, music videos and their ilk too. Despite almost getting a Target commercial once a year, nothing happened there but being too cute for the dork roles, too goofy to play a heart-throb and too skinny for any of the near-naked roles male dancers usually get. I dipped in and out of these cults of performance but never really drank the Kool-Aid (never fully assimilated). Often out of place and always broke, I spent my prime physical years blowing off dance to live the sordid existence of a lost LA youth.

Participating in Pretense for Pennies

After some aimless years and peer pressure, I dove head first into dancing again. I mean, what else was I going to do (common dancer problem)? I managed to scrounge up some steady and relatively depressing work under choreographers with semi-legitimate backgrounds. During one performance in particular, I was paid (sort of) to dance as if I were water (in a very LITERALLY choreographed way). Feeling silly flailing my arms around to 1980's acid jazz, I realized if these hot shots were choreographing then I damn well could be too.

Dance can be easily rife with pretense. OK yeah you’re performing so pretending is part of the deal, but pretending can become pretentious real quick. In the fine art realm of modern dance, I see people present how profound and high-minded they can be to the point of sometimes bewildering their audience. With music video styles of jazz and hip hop dance, I see people pretend really hard to be the coolest, hottest, sexiest beasts imaginable. Is there something deeply wrong with any of this? No, sometimes it kicks ass, but I think it can lack authenticity when (often) presented in an exaggerated way. Those profound/sexy asses were on a toilet seat an hour before they were showing us how transcendent they could be (foreshadowing). My experience during these years left me feeling too ugly and low-rent to compete in the dance world, as is.

The Ultimate Equalizer / The Last Taboo

Frustrated with the pretense of hot moves and high art, I conspired to create a dance event to end all dance events. The mission, slice through the pretense of both art and entertainment, explore real human drama, while avoiding the choreographer’s plight of taking himself waaay too seriously. Bathroom Follies consisted of 5 dance vignettes that wallowed in hidden, humbling situations occurring in the restroom. Characters included a lowly bathroom attendant, mean girls in front of the mirror, people being tested for drugs, people looking for safe public places to cry, and a nightmarish bowel beast. The absurdity of the whole bathroom concept made it harder for us to be pretentious or preachy while liberating us to laugh through issues of vanity, class, public intimacy and the taboo of poo. In a world becoming more and more desensitized by sex and violence, we got to dick around with a different set of standards.

“Pina Fey”

Bathroom Follies, raw and ridiculous as it was, set into motion a sort of bastardized broadway experience that would become my calling card for almost 1o years (“son of a bitch” he whispers). It’s where the equation I solve art problems with was concocted.

-1 part classical dance (ballet, jazz, ballroom, modern)
-1 part barbaric forms (noise, gesture, bodily fluids)
-1 part vaudevillian shtick

At parties I make a joke that includes the line “if Pina Bausch and Tina Fey had a love child”. It seems to help others triangulate my weird performance intersection. If you (or I for that matter) are ever at a loss to quantify it, think “Pina Fey”.

Psst… Wanna See Original Footage of B.M.?

Sign up for the dance madness that is my email list and witness the raw recording of Bowel Movement from that first fated weekend. If you’d like to book the latest version for your next event, email info@jamiebenson.com.