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  • The Steps to First Dance
  • Lisa O'Connell (bio)

The dancer enters. It is the morning of his wedding. Clad in a towel, he begins to shave. As he pulls the straight razor, he thinks of his family, the men who were sea captains, rum runners, and navy men. Manly men who lived lives filled with promises and postures that were exact, clear, and severe. These men married women.

As the blade hits the bowl to release the severed whiskers, atonal music is heard. A dancer emerges from the shadow. He [End Page 99] takes the blade from the first. It looms open and threatening as the shadow leads him in a dangerous waltz. The shadow shaves the dancer, dropping him deep in a dip. At the end, the dancer, exhausted and drained, surrenders to his knees. The knife remains over his head as the shadow places a dress shirt over his body.

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Jeff Fox shaves Trevor Copp during an atonal waltz in the opening scene of Tottering Biped's workshop production of First Dance performed in Waterloo, Ontario in July 2011, and Burlington, Ontario in August 2011.
Photo by Mark Walton

This is the opening scene of Tottering Biped's workshop production of First Dance, which was presented in July 2011 in Waterloo, Ontario, and August 2011 in Burlington, Ontario. The piece was developed with Pat the Dog Playwright Centre.

Development of the piece began in February 2010 after I saw Trevor Copp and Jeff Fox dance the salsa at a queer theatre festival. The image of two very powerful, very sexual men seamlessly shifting in and out of lead and following without a momentary pause was engaging. Even revolutionary. How did they know when to give and release? How did they both hold their power in the moment yet willingly submit and surrender to the other? Who's in control? Who leads and who follows? It was strong, powerful, and beautiful. It was also sexy as hell.

There were ten other acts in the festival's lineup, but the gay ballroom segment was by far the most engaging. Despite Copp's assertion that nothing is campier than ballroom, there was nothing self-effacing, satirical, or gimmicky in their movements. The means by which they articulated a liquid lead seemed a metaphor for an ideal partnership.

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Trevor Copp dips Jeff Fox in an exultant salsa as he recalls the first time he witnessed two men dance together in a club.
Photo by Mark Walton

Following the performance, I approached Trevor and Jeff, peppering them with questions that they willingly answered, many of which they had never considered themselves. They conceded that audiences always reacted strongly and positively when they danced. They hadn't thought much as to why.

Over the course of the next several months, we met to discuss this why. Both men are out and open. Armed with a tape recorder, we recorded more than nineteen hours of conversations. A twenty-minute excerpt of these explorations was presented at the Magnetic North Theatre Festival in June 2010 at Pat the Dog Playwright Centre's Piecemeal reading series, one of the Magnetic Vibrations. They spoke lines verbatim from the text lifted off the tape. They deconstructed the salsa juxtaposed with personal reflections and questions. It was clinical but engaging. Response from the audience was strong.

We went back into the room and asked more questions. Trevor had recently been married, and the quest to find the right dance for his wedding was a critical element in the creation of his new rituals. Ballroom dance is rife with ritualistic movement. It seemed a good match. Choosing what dance became the question of the play.

For both Trevor and Jeff, the first dance is the most important aspect of the marriage ceremony. Both men agree that they are at their most intentional and authentic when they [End Page 100] dance. As stated in the play, they don't want "Hawaiian shirts, cowboy hats or feather boas" in the marriage ceremony. In the absence of set traditions and rituals that are inclusive, they seek to set their...


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