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Scott Duane. c/o Scott Duane.

Dance Cast S02 E14: Terrified Trans Beginner Scott Duane

Sima Belmar

Listen to the episode here and check out our latest episode below👇

Sima Belmar:

Welcome to Dance Cast. I’m your host, Sima Belmar. I am here with Scott Duane. Scott Duane is a writer, a dancer, filmmaker, retired trans activist, and a total nerd (self-described.) His love of dance was a later in life discovery emerging as he found himself at the tail end of his years-long journey of gender transition. Prior to entering the world of dance, he used his voice as a writer and filmmaker to process and understand the complexities of gender, centering transness in all its forms. In this new iteration of his artistic life, he is enjoying digging deep into some of these same areas from an embodied, often absurdist perspective. He is the co-editor of the 2019 Lambda Literary finalist Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from University of California, San Diego and has danced or performed in works by Nol Simonse, Eric Kupers, and Garrett + Moulton Productions.

I met Scott in dance class, and so we talk a lot about dance class in relation to everything I just said about transness and gender and being just a bunch of absurd dancing people. Scott and I talk together as two absurd dance nerds and I hope you enjoy it.

So, you have this Substack called The Terrified Trans Beginner: Finding Dance By Way of Gender. So, right away, there’s this play on the levels of dance classes in the studio format. Beginning modern, beginning jazz, beginning ballet. And then, the beginning of transition or the beginning of identity or the beginning of… There’s just a lot of beginning play in here, which I really appreciate. Tell us a little bit what this project is and then I’ll have you do some reading and we’ll talk.

Scott Duane:

So, the name actually, “Terrified Trans Beginner,” came from Sean Dorsey’s class that he taught. That was the first dance class that I ever took and he named the class “Modern Dance For Terrified Beginners,” and it was just for trans people, and I thought that was sort of funny. I’d never taken a dance class before and so I had really no idea that there was, like, what the levels meant or that there was this whole thing around levels and whatnot. And, for me, that class was kind of this portal into this whole new world of dance that I never expected to be a part of. It didn’t feel like it was for me. It just didn’t feel like it would ever be something that would be accessible to me, mostly psychologically.

And, then suddenly I took this class and I was like, oh, wow, I love this thing. I love dance. I just want to do this all the time. And it was this kind of transformative moment in my life of beginning this thing that just became the center of my whole life. So, yeah, and so, I’ve been experiencing dance from this sort of unique perspective of having started late in life. I think I was like 33 when I started. And being trans and being sort of on the far side of gender transition, medical transition. And that’s always just been really interesting to me, being in class mostly with people that are different from me and oftentimes being the only guy and oftentimes being the only trans person and usually being the only trans guy.

I have always found dance class to be… I don’t know, it’s sort of like a cipher or something for all of these different experiences within ourselves and particularly with regard to gender and with regard to my relationship with my own body and sort of reflecting on where I’ve gotten to with gender transition and just the sort of natural process of maturing and aging and all that stuff. It’s been something that I think about almost every day.

Writing has been with me since I was a child. It was my earliest form of self-expression and it always felt really safe because it was not an embodied thing. It was totally cerebral. I didn’t have to be seen. I didn’t have to use my body in order to do it in any way. But, I could still express. So, I was really just always wanting to tell this story of all these interesting things that were coming up for me around this journey of starting dance at this odd stage of my life. This blog and this, I’m hoping it’ll turn into a book, is my attempt to explore all of those interesting experiences through writing.

Sima Belmar:

You already published a book.

Scott Duane:

Mm-hmm.

Sima Belmar:

Can you just name that book and talk a little bit about that?

Scott Duane:

The book that I published in 2019 was called Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity. And I was actually one of two editors on that book. It’s an anthology of 30 short pieces by nonbinary people. It’s a very diverse group of authors both in terms of their writing experience and just across the board, in terms of where they live and what their gender identity is and their race and their age and all of these different things. My co-editor Micah [Rajunov] and I, we collected a bunch of stories because we were really interested in this question of what is nonbinary. What does that mean? What does that identity mean? It’s something that’s sort of newly being talked about so much and the definitions of words are still sort of settling and formulating. So, we were really interested in digging into this question of what does it mean to live as a nonbinary person. What is that experience like from the inside out?

Took us a few years to sort of get it going and we eventually published it with Columbia University Press. It was a Lambda Literary Finalist, actually, which we were really proud of. I wrote a little bit before that. I wrote a piece for The Advocate once and I wrote for another trans anthology called Manning Up a few years before that. So, yeah. Writing experiences here and there.

Sima Belmar:

You know, we’ve had a few conversations leading up to this one and how interesting and tangled and complicated embodiment… Well, I don’t want to say embodiment is. Maybe it is interesting and complicated and tangled for some of us more than others. But to talk about it and to think about experience like you just said inside and out, and that dance is, as they say in the academe, a privileged site for exploring questions about embodiment and experiences of embodiment. A lot of dance history and obviously dance criticism focuses on works and what they look like and what stories they tell. Conversations about dancers’ bodies tend to be reserved for saying how great their bodies are or shaming their bodies or something like that. There isn’t a ton.

I mean, there’s more and more writing about dance and the body and the experience of embodiment in dancing in training contexts and pedagogical contexts and stuff. But it’s really like philosophers who try to get into that like phenomenological questioning, and they often don’t look at dance. And, then there is a whole world of dance philosophy but it’s very siloed. It’s siloed within philosophy and it’s siloed within dance studies and dance theory. It’s like a space you can completely avoid if you want to.

Scott Duane:

Mm-hmm.

Sima Belmar:

I don’t know why. I’d have to think more about that. But even your anthology and the way you were just talking about it, you said that you were collecting stories. That’s how your new project starts. So, I’d love for you to read the first paragraph first. The post is called “I’m Late But I’m Here: The Long Road To The First Day of Dance.”

Scott Duane:

“The Long Road To The First Day of Dance.” “Every once in a while, I’ll meet someone at a class or a show, or in some other dance context, and we’ll exchange our ‘dance stories’ — that is, our personal histories with dance. These tales tell like love stories, usually stretching back into childhood, perhaps including some tumult or conflict, a break from one another eventually followed by a reunion. These stories are woven into the fabric of the rest of our lives, and often reveal a person in a particular sort of relief. I love hearing these stories. When I hear someone tell theirs, I imagine all the dancers I’ve ever known and all the dancers those dancers have ever known sitting around an enormous, fantastical campfire, enraptured by the teller, everyone seeing them anew through this aperture.”

Sima Belmar:

That’s beautiful. This first installment of the blog of what might be a book is you telling your dance story, which you started to share a minute ago about Sean Dorsey’s class. You mentioned that your first class was at 33. And now you are?

Scott Duane:

37.

Sima Belmar:

Oh, it’s just so recent. It’s just all so–

Scott Duane:

It’s all so recent. It’s just…

Sima Belmar:

You’re a dance baby. You’re a tiny dance baby.

Scott Duane:

It really changed my life. It really feels like I can’t imagine my life without dance now and it’s odd to think that it is such a recent development because it feels like such a good fit.

Sima Belmar:

What you do so beautifully in this piece of writing is talk about your experience of your body, of how you felt inside your body as a child, and then moving through transition, and you’re very, very forthright about everything pretty much that you put your body through to feel good in it and to feel at home in it. Even that language is funny, right?

Scott Duane:

Mm-hmm.

Sima Belmar:

Because, it’s like, are we in it? You know?

Scott Duane:

Yeah. And, how do we get to that feeling of home? To me, that’s been like the central project of my life, is trying to figure out, how do I live in this body? I remember being a kid and it just being so sort of amorphously painful to exist in my body and to see my body in a mirror or even sometimes just to look down and see various body parts. It was just really, really excruciating. I didn’t understand why that was. You’re a kid and you’re trying to make sense of so many different things in the world and back then there wasn’t language around being trans or gender dysphoria.

And, for me, I do think that that was only one piece of it. It was sort of this big tangled knot of different things, and gender and transition were kind of at the center of it, but it wasn’t just that. There were other things that were sort of contributing. Like, my family was really, really sort of weird and strict about food and so they were all those kinds of things. And then I grew up as a girl in the eighties in the Midwest and so there were all of these messages about how your body is supposed to be. So, I feel like it was just this big, big soup of all of these different things and I think that the gender piece of it was really core and figuring that out for me and finding that that was such an essential thing, that was central to unraveling the puzzle for me.

So, once I found that, it sort of made it possible to open all of these other doors and it was sort of this slow process over the years of just trying different things. Distance running. That’s one of the earliest things that I did with my body when I was about 12, is when I started running really, really long distances. There was a healthy part to that and there was a really unhealthy part. It was… Led me down this kind of disordered eating kind of path. But, it was also a way that I first found embodiment.

And, then martial arts was something that I picked up when I was a teenager. That was really interesting, sort of gender-wise and also body-wise. In martial arts, we,you wear these like uniforms that make you look really, really boxy. They’re really loose. So there’s this way that the uniform sort of alleviated some of the gender dysphoria for me because I didn’t have to look in the mirror and see my body as it was when I was naked or wearing sort of more gendered clothes. I was sort of a straight line just like everybody else and that was really helpful and kind of allowed me this little wedge into this other way of being embodied.

I didn’t actually figure out that I was trans until I was like 23. I was in my early 20s and I just didn’t have any context for it. I had never met a trans person. My parents didn’t know what that was. It just wasn’t a part of my world until it was because I met somebody who had transitioned and really from the moment that I met him, I just had this really strong sort of instinctual drive that like, man, I think I got to transition. It was less than a year later that I started transitioning myself. It was very quick.

Medical transition took a long time for me. It was very intense physically. I had 11 surgeries. It was complicated and it was difficult and when I finally sort of got to this point where I was like, oh, I’m done with surgeries. I think I was 29 or 30 when I had my last surgery and I was like, wow, what a huge relief. It was like this huge weight off.

That sort of set me up to be in this body that I had created in this way and had help creating and that was enough unraveling that I could then open doors to other kinds of embodiment. I happened upon this dance class with Sean Dorsey. Really didn’t want to go. I didn’t think that it was going to be for me.

Sima Belmar:

What made you think out of the gate that dance wouldn’t be for you?

Scott Duane:

I think it was just that really old feeling of, you know, when I was a kid, it was excruciating to have people look at me and it was excruciating to be seen and to know that they were seeing this body that I hated so much. So, it was just that instinct of like, no, I don’t want to be in front of people and moving around in these weird ways.

You know, martial arts, it was sort of a different thing because it was so codified. You know, everybody was kind of doing the same thing and it wasn’t about expressing yourself. It was very functional. It was something about the combination of being seen and using my body in this expressive way, I just was like, no way, I don’t want to do this. I’m going to do this as minimally as I possibly can. I’ll go and then we’ll go and have dinner afterwards and that’ll be the day and I’ll never have to dance again. And, it just did not turn out like that at all.

Sima Belmar:

Which leads me to this next paragraph I’d like you to read, which is the one that starts, “But, when I found dance.” Maybe you should read the paragraph before it and that one.

Scott Duane:

“As the most intensive parts of my medical transition passed, they left in their wake a newly constructed body, so much more male than it had been, but one that I still had trouble feeling as my own. My body felt so much more correct than it had, so much less dissonant, but I still inhabited my skin with a certain awkwardness, as if my body and my soul were roommates, simply sharing a space out of necessity, observing a polite truce, but knowing nothing like real intimacy. My body was not yet a home. I’d been so busy building the structure that I’d yet to have a chance to really live in it.

“But when I found dance, it was as if my body, my gender, and my soul learned to speak a shared language. And once they did, they were a very chatty bunch. Perhaps that’s why I simply could not stop dancing in those first couple years. Every part of me had so much to say, and each had been waiting a lifetime to say it.”

Sima Belmar:

So beautiful and so much going on in there. You know? In terms of self-expression, voice, embodied voice, and like you said, gender, soul. There’s just so much going on and one of the first things I think of is just how everything has to be taken on a case by case basis. Dance could be this healing incredible space for one person and this absolute disaster for another person. I mean, I’m thinking back to my conversation with Monique Jenkinson, talking about how dance, ballet specifically, sedimented her body dysmorphia.

Scott Duane:

Mm-hmm.

Sima Belmar:

It was such a contributing factor to that alienation from one’s own body.

And again, it’s dance specific, it’s genre specific, it’s teacher specific, it’s moment in life specific. I mean, there’s just so many pieces of the puzzle. But, right at this point in the essay, you’re hitting this turning point where dance is going to be like a vehicle for homecoming.

Scott Duane:

Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Sima Belmar:

What I’m most excited about and interested in is having you try, and some of it’s in the writing but, to understand what it is about dance class, the dance training, the dance class space, that has been so life changing for you. And, for me, too. I mean, I’ve been dancing… How many years is that? 40. Many. Over 40. I’ve gone through many phases with it, but today as a 51-year-old person who’s also had, they weren’t on purpose gender related surgeries, they were, I have a gene that gave me breast cancer that meant I had to double mastectomy and have a full hysterectomy and have those things. And, I did have thoughts about, what does it mean to be woman? And I remember thinking one day where I was like, oh, it turns out for me, I don’t actually really feel like I identify as woman. I mean, I don’t identify as nonbinary and I don’t identify as male. But, that basically that gender almost doesn’t… I don’t have a feeling for it.

Scott Duane:

Yeah.

Sima Belmar:

And, once I was missing some of the markers, even though I got implants, I have mixed feelings about that, it definitely raised questions for me and one of the fun side effects of my experience is that getting a double mastectomy and having these implants anchored where I no longer have to wear a bra and nothing moves, has completely changed jumping for me.

Scott Duane:

Hmm. Oh, that’s so interesting.

Sima Belmar:

Completely changed jumping. When I jump now… I used to get cramps always in my trap whenever I would jump. Petit allegro, grand allegro, whatever. I think because I was, you know, no matter how many jog bras I would have on, I just felt like movement and also like I needed to not have movement, not just because of dance but because of like leering eyes in the world or whatever. To not have that, I remember being like, holy shit, this is amazing! Nothing moves! It’s so cool. You know? What’s going on in there? What is the invitation or the affordance of dance classes that you’ve taken here that has helped you along this journey to feeling at home in your body? It’s so exciting.

Scott Duane:

Yeah. That’s a really good question and a lot of really interesting points. First, what I’ll say is that I’ve thought a lot over these last four years about, what would it have been like if I had discovered dance earlier in life? In some ways, especially when I first started, there were times when I was just like, Man, I really… I wish I had an 18-year-old body doing this. I wish that I had the experience of really being at my physical peak in some ways and getting to learn these things and getting to experience it through that lens.

But, I think it’s a hypothetical that really doesn’t make much sense because I don’t think that dance class would be at all the same experience for me. I wouldn’t be the same person if I had been able to get myself into a dance studio when I was 18 or when I was 10 or when I was five or whatever. It wouldn’t have meant, I think, the same thing at all, and I think one of the things about starting so late in life and being at the place in life that I was when I started was that I was able to come at it from this place of really knowing who I was and really having done a lot of not just physical transformation, which was a big part of it, but also just a lot of self-reflection and maturing and figuring out who I was and what was important to me and what I wanted. And, that’s what I came into the dance studio with.

So, in some ways I feel like I got to have this really sort of pure experience of dance because I wasn’t still figuring out all those questions that you’re figuring out when you’re five years old and when you’re 10 years old and when you’re relying on the world to tell you how you feel and taking in all that and trying to make sense of it. You know, I had done so much of that already because I was 33 and I’d already been through a lot of physical and life experiences and stuff like that.

Sima Belmar:

And you had a Jesus year.

Scott Duane:

What’s my Jesus year?

Sima Belmar:

33.

Scott Duane:

Oh, I didn’t know.

Sima Belmar:

Jesus was crucified and is reborn when he’s 33.

Scott Duane:

I didn’t know that.

Sima Belmar:

Yeah. And I’m the Jew and I knew!

Scott Duane:

I was raised by militant atheists.

Sima Belmar:

Cool.

Scott Duane:

So, I know nothing about Jesus.

Sima Belmar:

I love it.

Scott Duane:

You know, the other thing that came to mind when you were talking about your own experience, which I really appreciate you sharing, is that oddly, the further I have gotten into medical transition and sort of the further, you know, the older I sort of get with this body that I’m in, the less I sort of feel like I need to talk about myself as a man. I also don’t identify as nonbinary. You know, I did a book about it and I feel like if that was the right word for me, I would feel fine using it. It’s not how I feel. What I feel is that I live in this body and it feels more correct for this body to be sort of a male form. You know, it was just a very physical embodied process. For me, that’s what’s important about my gender to me, is the physicality of it, and that’s not true for everybody and I’m not at all putting anything on anybody else. But, for me, that’s been the experience of gender that’s sort of felt the most right to me.

Sima Belmar:

What you just described really throws a wrench, in a way and sort of not, into the way we’re thinking more progressively about gender.

Scott Duane:

Mm-hmm.

Sima Belmar:

Because of this very important move to separate gender from sexuality and from sex, from physical sex. That’s an important move for a number of reasons, but it also doesn’t cover all stories. But, in a way you kind of… It’s like a moving story, what you’re saying. Something doesn’t feel right in the body. Oh, it turns out that I don’t feel like I am my gender. Neither my gender nor my body, physical morphology. I feel neither of those things are right. I change the morphology. I feel much more in my body now. That feels right. But, I don’t really feel necessarily more in my gender.

Scott Duane:

Right.

Sima Belmar:

Like, that part doesn’t seem to be as important.

Scott Duane:

Yeah. Yeah.

Sima Belmar:

It’s just an interesting… And again, like you said, it’s your story. Everybody has a different story. But, I like when there’s… When we get to hear a bunch of different stories for this very reason, so that we don’t make the mistake of locking down in some other way on the relationship between all these moving parts.

Scott Duane:

Yeah, absolutely.

Sima Belmar:

I just wanted to say that.

Scott Duane:

You know, it’s been such an interesting time to have transitioned. When I came out as trans, I believed that I would transition and basically not tell anybody. Like, that’s how it was then, was you would maybe tell like your partner and your close, close friends, but you would never be out at work. You would never get on a podcast and tell people about it. You know, it was just so much more, there was so much more stigma and it was just considered this very, very private experience. And that just has shifted so incredibly over the 14-ish years that I’ve transitioned. It’s so much more comfortable to be a trans person in the world. I don’t have to go around hiding who I am or hiding who I used to be or what my body used to look like, all of these different things.

That has been so important for so many people and sort of the seat of that discussion has been, well, we are more than our secondary sex characteristics or primary sex characteristics. We are more than the physicality that we traditionally have associated with gender and that’s just unlocked something incredible in society. And one of the things that I think has been a side effect that we’ve gotten along with all of that is that for those of us for whom the physical transformation of our sex is important and is vital and the most important thing about our transitions and our genders, we’ve kind of gotten away from being able to talk about that in a way that acknowledges just how vital that is and how important it is.

Sima Belmar:

Excellent. But I got you off track.

Scott Duane:

Oh, right. Right, right, right.

Sima Belmar:

You were coming… You were coming down the pike to talking about dance class.

Scott Duane:

Right. So, the first class with Sean I think was just really important in the sense that it shook me awake a little bit and it shook me free of this notion that I, that it was like so deeply painful to be seen by other people and to be seen expressing with my body by other people. Like there’s this one part in the story where I talk about AJ Jones, ArVejon Jones, who is the assistant teacher for the class. I’ve watched AJ on stage for like years and years and he’s just gorgeous. He’s such a gorgeous dancer. You know, I’m watching him teach this class and I’m like trying to do the thing and I just see him and I’m like, Oh my God. He must think that I look so stupid because I’m so bad at this. I’ve never done this before. But, I just feel so stupid and Oh my God, I was just embarrassed.

And, I just had this in-the-moment realization that like AJ is a professional dancer. He has spent so much of his energy and time and his life is dedicated to doing this well and to teaching it. He’s such a dedicated teacher. Why do I think that somebody for whom dance is so important, that he would think a beginner doing their best in a class is stupid? Something shook in that moment and I was like, no,he doesn’t think this and so I don’t have to think that either. And so, I just decided I’m going to ignore that thought. When it comes up and I feel embarrassed or I feel shame or whatever, I’m just going to ignore it and just decide that that’s part of the past and today I’m in dance class and I’m just going to fully embrace it as much as I possibly can.

And, I think that’s been just a really powerful thing. Every time I go into a class, it’s this laboratory of all of these different things. It’s the laboratory of learning how to move in your own skin, learning how your particular anatomy moves around and can do these interesting things and find these interesting pathways. And, it’s also… You know, you discover other things as well about the way that you want to express yourself and the way that that feels to be seen by other people and how it feels to see somebody else learn to dance and discover themselves.

Shaunna Vella is the, I’ve mentioned her in this first piece and the whole second chapter is going to be about her class. I think she’s the best beginner teacher in the Bay Area. She is just fantastic.

Sima Belmar:

Say why.

Scott Duane:

She creates this room where you can go in and it does not matter who you are, there’s just no judgment. She’s silly. She both takes dance very seriously and does not take dance class very seriously. She doesn’t take herself seriously. She is technically gorgeous. She’s a beautiful performer. She’s an amazing artist. So she brings all of that and she’s like, This is just modern dance class. We’re just going to be here and be weird together and we’re going to move in all of these weird ways. It’s silly and it’s queer and it’s just completely welcoming. Anybody can just go in and try out this weird thing.

I think there is something in particular about it just being, the acknowledgment that it’s just weird. We’re just in these weird bags of flesh and bones and stuff and we’re just doing weird things with them together. And how beautiful is that? Let’s all just do that together, experience this physical gift of the body that we’re given and just do as much as we can with it. There’s not a hint of competitiveness in her class. There never has been. That’s really true about most of the dance classes that I’ve taken in the Bay Area. And, there may be something about I’m not an up and coming professional dancer. I’m not going to feel the competitiveness in the same way if there is any. But I think with Shaunna’s class, there’s just none of that. We’re all just there supporting each other and taking joy not just in our experience of dance but also in everybody else’s experience of dance.

I also just love watching other beginners find the class, you know? I love when it’s somebody’s first day. It’s so incredible to see somebody be in that room for the first time and just try it out and watch how their experience differs from my remembered experience of it and how it’s similar and just really celebrate. You’re here trying out this weird thing.

Sima Belmar:

Well, it is an amazing thing. It’s like… Was it Spinoza? I think it was Spinoza who said…

Scott Duane:

Yeah. I don’t know.

Sima Belmar:

Who said like… You know, he asked that question about what a body can do and the Ben Spatz wrote a book called What A Body Can Do. The basic nutshell of the Spatz book is like we’ll never know the limits of what bodies can do.

Scott Duane:

Mm-hmm.

Sima Belmar:

One of the ways bodies are limited is by gendering them. So you gender it and then that means now these various movements are off limits and these various movements are the ones that are correct.

Scott Duane:

Mm-hmm.

Sima Belmar:

You know, just your usual social norms for various things. You gender them. You can race them. You can class them. You can nation them. Bodies are limited by so much. And right away. The classes you and I take together and what other ones that you’re talking about, there really is a premium placed on kinesthetic experience and finding. Here is someone doing something. How can I do something similar? What are the various things I need to feel and experiment with in order to do it?

And so, when I take class, the reason why it never gets boring, and it can be the same combination weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks. You know, teachers are always like, “I’m sorry I haven’t changed it in a while.” I’m like, don’t change it.

Scott Duane:

Oh, I love that. Yeah.

Sima Belmar:

I know. Don’t change it.

Scott Duane:

You do the same thing for weeks.

Sima Belmar:

For weeks, months, because I can’t attend to my body in a 360 degree way every time, so each time I’m like, I’m going to focus on fingertips. Now, I’m going to do knees. Now, the way my feet feel on the floor. Now, I’m thinking about stuff that has nothing to do with anything and I’m just moving on autopilot. The unbelievable variety. And I feel like dance is this place that allows you to do, like you said, weird stuff with your body that you don’t tend to do when you’re walking to the bus or sitting in your office or whatever.

The conventional space where use of the elbow now has like a whole bunch of other possibilities that maybe are not legible. They don’t have to have meaning. They don’t have to be beautiful. It’s a playground.

Scott Duane:

Mm-hmm. I think coming into dance, I assumed that it was more like martial arts, at least the style of martial arts that I studied where you’re really trying to emulate sort of exactly what the teacher is doing and exactly what the more senior students are doing. And that’s not really it, at least the classes that I like the most. Another teacher that I love is Kristin Damrow. I think she’s brilliant and I love her movement and she very frequently will say, “You’re not here to be a copy of me. That’s boring.” She’s really focused on finding the sensations in the body that drive the movement that she’s offering and it ends up looking really different on everybody and that’s one of the really, really interesting things about it. You’re not there to make yourself into somebody else’s body. You’re not there to make your movement into somebody else’s movement. You’re there to discover the movement that you can make out of whatever the teacher is offering.

Sima Belmar:

It’s such nerdy fun, dance class.

Scott Duane:

It totally is. That’s something I realized quite a bit in Rogelio’s [Lopez] class. I love Rogelio’s class.

Sima Belmar:

Say more.

Scott Duane:

He’s somebody that when I first started taking his class, I was doing that thing where I was still… I was still a beginner. It was probably one of the first like intermediate or more advanced classes that I started taking and so I was still sort of in that shape mindset. What is he doing with that leg? I don’t know. My leg doesn’t do that. And as I took his class week after week, I was like, no, that’s not it. There’s something else. It’s more of that like when he says he’s kicking his leg, how can I make that movement out of my body even though I know it’s not going to look the same?

But what I love about his class is that he’s always willing to help you find those pathways and always willing to help you do that translation, and I think that translation part is just so interesting. That’s what we’re here to do, is to translate rather than emulate.

Sima Belmar:

Translate rather than emulate. That’s a bumper sticker or a T-shirt. It sounds like that in these four years of dance classes that you’ve been taking… Well, it feels like there’s several things about what the homecoming is about. Part of it is about what you said early on about AJ and realizing that this is a context where you’re not being judged, where your exploration is your exploration. I mean, a dance class can be judgy. I know that. But it sounds like for you, that’s part of it, that you get to have your own exploration. You get that with Rogelio. You get that with Shaunna, too. Something about translation and something about this is the body I inhabit and I am now learning different ways to use it, to move it, in a space of joyful inquiry. So, how could that not be a space of homecoming in a way?

But, maybe there’s more to it than that or something more finely put.

Scott Duane:

I think that’s very much it. I think there’s also a piece about just letting go of judgment of yourself and letting go of that deep shame that I think a lot of people, not just trans people, but a lot of people feel towards their bodies. One of the most interesting things about writing this piece is I’ve been sort of sharing it with a few people and a cis guy who’s a friend, a really good friend of mine, he said he related to it just so deeply because he said that for him, when he was a kid, he used to feel something very similar, like this very heavy hatred of his body.

And there’s this one part where I describe this thing I used to do where I would… I just hated my stomach. I hated my stomach so much when I was a kid and I would literally grab it and I would try to pull it off. I was convinced when I was a little kid, there’s got to be a way to fix this. You know? This is just awful. And I would just pull at it, and he said he used to do the same thing. And maybe that comes back to gender was one seed of it for me but it wasn’t the only one.

One of the things that dance class has allowed me to do, probably the most important thing, the most vital thing and the most healing thing, has been to just reject that shame, to just say like, you know what? I spent a really, really long time, a lot of years just buried in this shame and this hatred of my body and I am going to take every ounce of not feeling that, and dance class is the place where it’s the antithesis of that for me. As you’re saying, it’s different for every person, but when I go into dance class, I go in with this attitude of like, I refuse to feel that. You know? And when I feel that coming up, it makes me want to push even harder against that.

Maybe it’s gentler than that. Sometimes I’ll still go in and maybe I’ll look in the mirror and have a little whiff of that past experience of just shame and body hatred and whatnot, and I think that dance class can then afford the opportunity to say no. That’s not my experience of my body anymore. That’s not the life that I live anymore. That’s not the embodied experience that I’m having anymore. Being able to do that every single day is a real gift. The more I do it, the more deeply content I feel in life. Dance class is… I don’t know. It kind of fixes everything. You know? It’s this daily ritual of just going in and remembering that I’m living this life now and it’s a really, really good life and when things are hard, it’s the net that kind of catches beneath me, and when things are good, it’s the way I celebrate feeling that love that I didn’t get to feel for so long.

Sima Belmar:

I’m going to cry again. That is just beautiful. I was going to have you read some of the end, but then you just said all that beautiful stuff that felt end-y.

Scott Duane:

“If you’d told me as I left Lines that day that the modern dance world was about to become my community and the practice of this art my central passion in life, I’d have laughed at the absurdity. But it was true. In the not-too-distant future there would be dozens of teachers, each in possession of a unique corner of dance wisdom. There would be fellow dancers with generous spirits and complicated, intricate histories of their own. There would be lessons in technique and artistry, tricky rhythms in 5’s and 7’s and even 15’s, and loads upon loads of laundry. There would be rehearsals and shows, including one with a 30-foot ball of yarn and another with an old tricycle. There would even be heartbreak.

“If only I’d known all of this back then. I prefer it how it was, though: a total and transformational surprise, a joy so pure it required no accompaniment of anticipation.

“There is so much more to say, but that is the end of the beginning. AJ and Sean had planted a seed to be sure, but they both would recede into the background of my dance life, at least for awhile. The next story I’ll tell you is of the quirky beginner’s class taught by Shaunna Vella, where that seed could not help but sprout and flower under her impossibly bright light.

“I can’t wait to tell you more. Until then, maybe I’ll catch you in class, and if I do, please come over and tell me the story of your own dance. I’d love to hear it.”

Sima Belmar:

Dance Cast is an ODC Theater production curated, written and edited by Sima Belmar. That’s me. With creative consulting from Chloë Zimberg and Sophie Leininger and additional support from Matt Shrimplin and Garth Grimball.

Please subscribe and rate our podcast wherever you get your podcasts and tell your friends. You can find a transcript of this episode and all Dance Cast episodes, complete with hyperlinks to related content, at odc.dance/stories. Until next time, dance on.

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A collection of articles about ODC and the world of Dance.

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Dance dispatches from the most active center for contemporary dance on the West Coast.