Katy Pyle and members of their company, Ballez, rehearsing outside during the pandemic

Kyle Froman

5 Queer Dance Artists Who Make Us Proud Beyond Pride Month

The arts and the LGBTQ+ community have gone hand in hand for a long time, with dance being a safe haven of expression for queer folks—and what better time to recognize that connection than during Pride month? Here are five queer dancemakers you should definitely know about. They've all made a dance-tastic impact through their creativity, activism and visibility, and many continue to challenge stereotypes in dance today.


Josephine Baker (1906–1975)

Photo courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

The American-born dancer Josephine Baker spent most of her career as an entertainer and civil rights activist based out of France. Besides standing out for her cheeky onstage cabaret persona and refusal to perform for segregated audiences, Baker is known for her magnetic, jazzy performance style and openly having relationships with both men and women. She has also gone down in history as the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture, for her performance in 1927's Siren of the Tropics.

Willi Ninja (1961–2006)

Willi Ninja was a gay dancer, choreographer and legendary figure in NYC's drag ball scene. He was featured in the ballroom documentary Paris is Burning and is now known as the godfather of voguing. Drawing inspiration from Fred Astaire and the world of high fashion, Ninja developed a totally unique style of movement that inspired Madonna's hit song "Vogue."

Jin Xing

Jin Xing is a Chinese ballerina, modern dancer, choreographer and founder of Jin Xing Dance Theatre in Shanghai. Jin is a trans woman and a celebrated dancer who studied in New York City with modern-dance icons like José Limón, Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham, before rising to national fame during her appearance as a judge on China's "So You Think You Can Dance." Her dance works are "startlingly original and provocative," giving traditional stories a twist and bringing queer representation into the spotlight.

Katy Pyle

Katy Pyle leans on a park bench dressed in bright green sweatpants and a white tie-dye shirt

Kyle Froman

Katy Pyle is a genderqueer lesbian dancer, choreographer and founder of Ballez. Before starting their ballet-based company in 2011, Pyle performed as a drag king and explored postmodern dance. Pyle's career has centered on exploring their "complicated relationship to the cis-hetero patriarchal form of ballet." Currently, Pyle teaches and continues choreographing queer-centered pieces.

Navtej Singh Johar

Navtej Singh Johar is a bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer, as well as an openly gay activist. In 2016, Johar and five other members of the LGBTQ+ community filed a petition with the Indian Supreme Court that was part of a landmark case which decriminalized homosexuality. Johar has also collaborated with dozens of composers and artists to bring bharatanatyam to the world and emphasize the beauty and versatility of classical Indian dance.

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Photo by Lindsay Thomas

Ashton Edwards Is Breaking Down Gender Barriers in Ballet

When Ashton Edwards was 3 years old, the Edwards family went to see a holiday production of The Nutcracker in their hometown, Flint, MI.

For the young child, it was love at first sight.

"I saw a beautiful, black Clara," Ashton says, "and I wanted to be just like her."

Ashton has dedicated 14 years of ballet training in pursuit of that childhood dream. But all the technical prowess in the world can't help Ashton surmount the biggest hurdle—this aspiring dancer was assigned male at birth, and for the vast majority of boys and men, performing in pointe shoes hasn't been a career option. But Ashton Edwards, who uses the pronouns "he" and "they," says it's high time to break down ballet's gender barrier, and their teachers and mentors believe this passionate dancer is just the person to lead the charge.

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Photo Courtesy of Apple TV+

All the Hollywood and Broadway Musical Moments to Look for in “Schmigadoon!”

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of about two dozen dancers got the rare opportunity to work on an upcoming Apple TV+ series—one devoted entirely to celebrating, and spoofing, classic 1940s and '50s musicals from the Great White Way and Hollywood. "Schmigadoon!", which premiered on AppleTV+ July 16, stars Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, who get stuck inside a musical and must find true love in order to leave. The show features a star-studded Broadway cast, including Aaron Tveit, Ariana DeBose, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Jane Krakowski and Dove Cameron, and is chock-full of dancing courtesy of series choreographer, Christopher Gattelli.

"The adrenaline was pretty exciting, being able to create during the pandemic," says Gattelli. "I felt like we were representing all performers at that point. There were so many who wanted to be working during the pandemic, so I really tried to embrace this opportunity for all of them."

Gattelli says it was a dream come true to pay tribute to the dance geniuses that preceded him, like Michael Kidd, Agnes de Mille, Onna White and Jerome Robbins, in his choreography. Each number shows off a "little dusting" of their work.

Dance Spirit spoke with Gattelli about all the triumphs and tribulations of choreographing in a pandemic, and got an inside look at specific homages to look out for.

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Shouldering the Load: What kind of dance bag should dancers use?

Walk into any dance convention, audition or class, and you'll see a vast variety of dance bags lining the walls. But can the style of bag you use (and how you wear it) have an impact on your dancing?

Don't worry—you won't have to shoulder the load alone. Dance Spirit spoke with two physical therapists who specialize in working with dancers to find out what dance bag is best.

What should dancers look for in a dance bag?

Dr. Meghan Gearhart, physical therapist and owner of Head2Toe Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC, recommends dancers opt for a backpack-style dance bag rather than a duffel or cross-body bag.

"A bag that pulls the weight all to one side creates a side bend and rotation in the trunk," Gearhart says. "That is going to lead to muscle imbalances that will affect dancers while they're dancing, as well as just in regular everyday life." Muscle imbalances can mean limited mobility on one side of your body, as the muscles on one side are overly contracted and the other side is overly extended to compensate.

Gearhart suggests dancers pick a backpack made from a lightweight yet durable and breathable material, such as cotton, linen, nylon or polyester. Straps should be wide enough to not dig into your shoulder muscles, so avoid drawstring styles with rope straps. Adjustable and padded straps are best, so you can wear the straps at a length where the bag rests at the middle of your back.

Dr. Bridget Kelly Sinha, physical therapist and founder of Balanced Physical Therapy and Dance Wellness in Matthews, NC, emphasizes the importance of finding an even weight distribution when choosing a dance bag.

"If a dancer has a lot to bring, like when heading to the theater for a full day of rehearsals and performances, then I recommend a rolling suitcase to offset the load," Sinha says.

How should dancers wear their bags?

Even if you've selected the perfect dance bag, it's important to be mindful of how you wear it.

Gearhart advocates wearing both straps when carrying your backpack. She also suggests placing heavier items towards the back of the bag, where they will sit closer to your body. A bag with straps that are too loose (or a bag that is too heavy) can create an increased arch in the lower back or cause a dancer to compensate for the weight by leaning forward. Ideally, Gearhart recommends a dancer's dance bag weighing no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

"I usually tell dancers to use their common sense. If you don't have tap today, you don't need to bring the tap shoes," she says. "If your water bottle makes the bag too heavy, just carry it." If your studio offers lockers, take advantage of that storage space to lessen the number of clothes, shoes, and dance accessories that live in your dance bag.

And if you think your bad dance-bag habits have given you alignment issues, seek out a dance physical therapist to prevent further injuries.

"As a dancer, your body is working so hard all day," Sinha says. "It does not need excess strain from your bag."

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