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 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 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.