More than 75 people packed the Provision Theater on Roosevelt Road for a night of free ballroom dance lessons and to cast votes in the second annual Dancing with the Queer Stars event Saturday night.
The event, created by Lanita Joseph, brought several couples to the stage to strut their stuff and compete in an effort to raise funds for Chicago youth.
“Stars are chosen, not by celebrity status, but by the work they do in the community,” said Joseph, who owns the Anita Davis Dance Theater, a venture named after her mother.
The Theater hosts an annual dance camp for youth to provide a safe space for artistic expression. Under the guise of curtailing the rising violence in Chicago’s disadvantaged communities, Joseph created the annual dance-off to tap into a community of people who care about what happens to Chicago’s youth.
“I want to give people the opportunity to do something great for children who need it, while also inspiring people of different colors, sizes and sexuality to fellowship through dance,” she said.
The funds raised this year will benefit up to 20 students, making the summer dance camp opportunity free.
The event was hosted by C.C. Carter, music was provided by Levilyn Chriss, beverages were made available by Sara Clemmons and American Sign Language interpretation was provided by Cathy Joseph.
“I had such a great time from start to finish — it was my first time here,” said Daniel Borjon, of Chicago. “I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much. All of the performances were funny and entertaining … It’s nice that you have a [sign language] interpreter, too. I didn’t expect equal accessibility.”
The judges, Brill Barrett of M.A.D.D. Rhythms and Marta Collazo of Queer Tango, were in attendance to give helpful tips to the couples.
“Work on synchronizing, I think with a little more practice, for next year’s competition you’ll be real tight,” Barrett told couple No. 7, Free and Danny after their performance to Michael Jackson’s “Bad.”
Within four weeks, couples had a total of three rehearsals to pull together their routines.
“The ability to entertain us, whether with technique or stage presence is what I’ll be looking for,” said Barrett, who in his second year as a judge, says that what many performers lack in professional technique, they make up for in stage presence.
Joseph choreographed the dancers, but didn’t look at gender roles in making her decision because she wanted to inspire people to know who they truly are and to rise above many of the notions of identity that are thrust upon them.
“When people love to dance, they’re not confined to dancing lead or dancing follow,” said Collazo.
Last year’s winner, Trina Tru Lov, lit up the stage with her new dance partner, and fiancé, Tae. Their sizzling hot performance was received by the crowd with catcalls and wolf-whistles, leaving the judges on the edge of their seats.
The contenders of the night turned out to be newcomers Shisha and Kush, who won first place. They were closely followed by Samara and Goldy, who took second place in the competition.
Audience members Jim Perry and Bob Horton voted for their top choices after the first round and said they were influenced by smiles delivered by the dancers and great choreography. “
[Couple No. 8] was having a ball,” said Perry, “and they’re brave!”
That couple consisted of David and Robert, who performed to “Staying Alive” and “Last Dance,” complete with feather boas and mock spankings.
Many in attendance said that they would have come to an event like this one even if it hadn’t been a fundraiser. There are some, who say that fundraising for a cause that benefits youth was the extra draw.
Lisa Marie Pickens, a contestant in the dance-off and a founding board member of Affinity Community Services, practiced for three weeks in preparation for the event. She admits that after learning the steps choreographed by Joseph, she no longer experienced stage fright.
“It was fun to participate and Lanita is a great instructor,” said Pickens. “Just make sure to come next year and support this effort more and more. It’s definitely important, what Lanita is doing.”
Joseph thanked the participants for their help in making the event happen. She feels that the contributions of the community as a whole could actually be used to save lives.
“Live out loud, love out loud and do things for the community … Not just queer kids, but all kids,” she said.
Couples that participated in this year’s dance competition were: 1. Lisa and Melvyna, 2. Samara and Goldy, 3. Jackie and Lanita, 4. Shisha and Kush, 5. KOKUMO and Lex, 6. Trina and Tae, 7. Free and Danny 8. David and Robert.