Channeling an alter ego to set the inner Fred and Ginger free
Is it just me, or have we all been super tired lately? Perhaps it’s the changing seasons. Maybe it’s from thinking about bills before bed and how inflation is making them harder to pay. Maybe it’s the existential crisis of climate change. Or maybe it’s how democracy seems to always be “on the ballot” in every election.
Perhaps tired isn’t the right word. Disconnected? In a world where we can connect with millions of people on social media, I find myself often feeling alone – sometimes on purpose. Is it possible to be too connected? Too in the know? Social media, a powerful tool that I think has been raising awareness for race, class and gender equality, also seems to radiate trauma. As someone who browses their phone before bed, I find I almost have to disassociate from what I just watched or read in order to fall asleep. I think I have been disconnecting in a similar way during waking hours in order to keep moving through the days and weeks.
The healthier version of this idea would be “unplugging.” But unplugging seems to be an idea from the past – something parents might have said in the ’80s or the name of my favorite live concert on MTV (back when they actually played music). However, I tend to unplug by checking my phone, thereby exacerbating this issue. What may be an obvious solution is meditation. But I often find myself dozing off during meditations, or worse, thinking about personal and world issues. At the beginning of this year, I decided that I needed something that would help me be more in tune with my body and become connected to the present – I needed to take a dance class.
As someone who performs in both theatre and drag shows, I hate to admit that my ability to quickly learn choreography has never been my strong suit. I, like many of you, dance when I’m alone and don’t care about messing up a step. It’s all just improv that my body needs to express in the moment – which has been happening a lot since the release of Beyoncé‘s “Renaissance” album last August.
I signed up for a dance class through Fort Lewis College, which was led by instructor Suzy DiSanto. I took this course as a non-degree-seeking student, and I’m pretty sure I was the oldest in the class. However, I looked forward to early-morning classes because it meant that I got to use my body in a way that was different from my otherwise sedentary life – even if some mornings were rough from the night before. It is Mexican Logger season after all.
We would start with a half hour of warm up, followed by another half hour of floor work, and then cap the class by learning numbers choreographed by Suzy. Although I started the term off strong in my motivation, I found myself getting frustrated with not only my inability to pick up choreography quickly, but also with how I felt I looked while I danced.
I had a friend in college who was part of a hip-hop dance crew. I loved the crew’s dances, and my friend would teach them to me during downtime in the dorms. However, one time he said to me: “You look funny.” I felt so embarrassed. Did I look funny because I couldn’t make the steps work? Were my knees too stiff? Or did dancing broadcast the thinness of my frame? Looking back, I wonder if I was being a bit melodramatic, but those words stuck with me. I never asked for clarification because I too quickly internalized his words and believed them. Years later, I would receive notes from directors in shows that I was too feminine or “gay” in my movements to play certain male characters. More cases of “looking funny.”
While learning the dances this semester, I often thought to myself how strange and unattractive I probably looked while stumbling through them. Eventually, these thoughts made going to class not only difficult but hurtful to my self-perception. It made me envious of people who could seemingly move through the world with confidence and no body shame. After not attending for a week and half, I remembered – I move through the world with confidence when I’m Rita Booke.
If this is your first column with me, Rita Booke is my drag name. She loves fashion and learning. She’s a bit more sophisticated than your typical “hot librarian” trope, but not by much. And on the nights when my wig is on tight and my outfit is on point, I feel unstoppable. What if I approached these dance classes as Rita? I wanted to channel her confidence in the moments when I was both learning and messing up the steps.
My class experience culminated with a disco number performed by me and two other students set to the tune of “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer (fun side note: Beyoncé named her final song of her album after Donna Summer and used a bit of “Love to Love You Baby” in it). I felt a heaviness in my stomach from the nerves of performing – something I knew I had to push past. We started and then received some applause during our first two counts of eight. It was so unexpected, and I got so excited that I forgot what to do next! We started our number again, and we made it through all the way. We bumped fists as we sat down, feeling both relieved and excited that we had just completed the performance.
I found myself falling asleep early that night. I was alone in bed, but I felt more connected to myself and the present than I had in a long time.
– Doug Gonzalez