Ballet dancer

A dance for equality: a transgender ballet dancer…

“I dance with a lot of emotion because it means so much to me. And every time I dance it’s potentially my last performance so I give it my all,” says English dancer Sophie Rebecca, the first openly transgender ballet dancer to train at the Royal Academy of Dance when the The institution has abandoned its policy of limiting participation in women’s classes to female-born dancers only.

There isn’t much of a market for older dancers and the 39-year-old tries to make every performance as impactful as possible.

According to a 2004 study of 11 countries, titled Make changes: facilitate the transition of dancers to post-performance careers, “Currently active dancers expect to continue their performing career into their 40s. However, dancers whose active careers are now over recall that although they thought they could continue until their late thirties, they on average stopped dancing professionally in their early to mid-thirties.

As part of its seventh edition, on July 16, 2020, South Africa’s International Online Ballet Competition Hosts Discussion on the possibilities of social progress through ballet with a panel of human rights defenders. In a conversation that explores how the art form has advanced high-level diplomacy, its ability to bring healing to trauma victims, and how it can encourage acceptance of transgender identities in the arts, panelists including Rebecca , will discuss the role ballet plays. in the work of each of them.

The beauty of dance is that it expands our imagination beyond our measured awareness.

Having come to consider her own identity through experiencing ballet, Rebecca is an advocate for greater inclusion in dance. She works with Ballet beyond bordersa nonprofit organization and dance festival that provides cultural, educational, and diplomatic exchange through an inclusive dance program that integrates “classical ballet and all dance genres from folk and Native American cultures with Indigenous nations of Africa and South America, hip hop, tap dancing and contemporary choreography”.

On this platform, she shares personal stories of her transition through choreographed pieces that give audiences an intimate view of the inner aspects of her journey. “Being able to tell my story as I am has been vital to my mental well-being. There have been instances where audiences have been brought to tears by sharing my emotion in the past. Healing and processing that raw emotion through dance was therapeutic,” she says.

Image courtesy of Sophie Rebecca
Sophie Rebecca by Simon Ho

The beauty of dance is that it expands our imagination beyond our measured awareness. It is an empathetic exchange, between the performer and the public, which transcends the linguistic limits which restrict our understanding of the world and of the other. The power of the dancer who possesses his expression is that he allows him to shape the light in which he is seen as he navigates his spiritual impulses. Considering how society lets humans down from the transgender experience through the erasure and exclusion that fuels the violent circumstances they are subjected to, dance can be an important element in contextualizing their humanity.

Rebecca says she first recognized her gender dysphoria when she expressed an interest in becoming a dancer, after seeing a ballet as a child. She was met with resistance and said it wasn’t right for boys to dance and that’s when she started to wonder why she was considered a boy. After decades of searching, she finally found a ballet coach who could teach her, uninhibited by transphobic views. And it was by finding emotional release as a dancer that she was able to gain the confidence to move on from presenting as a man.

Art contributes to the cultural norms that influence the conversations that the media promotes and has been an effective tool in changing mindsets.

The nuanced conversations around representation define true inclusiveness when people from different demographics control the narratives used to represent them. popular entertainment media representation marginalized groups is at best lacking and dehumanizing at worst, with transgender people in particular being erased or portrayed as mentally ill or socially deviant. And like even the Netflix documentary Disclosure: Trans lives on screen shows, this represents many of the reference points in the world for transgender people and it fuels widespread misconceptions that lead to transphobia. Art contributes to the cultural norms that influence the conversations that the media promotes and has been an effective tool in changing mindsets.

Rebecca often feels like she carries the weight of representing perfection for the sake of all transgender dancers.

“[With Ballet Beyond Borders…] we are working on two more tracks and i need them to talk about how i struggle with who i am. I expect them to be dark because there are a lot of strong emotions involved in that and I hope we can create an honest and powerful piece,” says Rebecca. She notes that she doesn’t want to get caught up in creating too many happy endings with performances, because there haven’t been many for transgender people yet.

“In the UK, some politicians are considering rolling back trans rights to the point where my partner and I are looking for possible countries to escape to. There is no happy ending for transgender people at the moment and we need to do these art projects to hopefully get accepted,” she points out.

And it’s not that there isn’t a place for transgender presence in society: research results indicate that women have no problem with sharing bathrooms with transgender people, for example, but trans-exclusive views persist even in supposedly feminist spaces, and there is a chance that the new UK legislature could impact how transgender people access these spaces. Rebecca sometimes has to drastically reduce her water usage for days on end to limit the need to access public restrooms.

“I hope that the last performance of our trilogy [with Ballet Beyond Borders] will be uplifting. They say society regresses just before we move forward with our ideas and hopefully this is the last big push,” says Rebecca.

For now — while her ballet classes are on hiatus for term — she is solely focused on building medical health systems to help improve patient care through her IT company, Learning Health Solutions, which combines data from multiple sources like hospitals, GPs and community care. designing and maintaining the cloud server architecture that helped the UK government respond to Covid-19. DM/ML/MC

Sophie Rebecca will join former US Marine turned dance company director Roman Baca, former US Ambassador Maxwell Baucus and Charlene Campbell Carey of Ballet Beyond Borders in a panel discussion on ballet diplomacy which will be streamed live on the SA International Ballet Competition Facebook page – web.facebook.com/groups/saibc – Thursday, July 16 at 3:00 p.m. SA time.

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