Jen Abrams launched a career in acting at age five, later taking up contact improvisation at its birthplace, Oberlin College. Diving into New York’s poetry scene helped her realize that words could link her two strong artistic passions.
“After struggling to self-produce work in Chicago, I moved here and was fortunate to hook up with the WOW Café Theatre, the oldest all-women theater space in the country—primarily, although not exclusively, lesbian. I was the first dancer there in a long time, if ever. I started making more content-driven pieces about sex and lesbian themes, immediately welcomed at WOW and Dixon Place. Sex is sexy!
“Being out gives ready access to a market: The lesbian community is tight and supportive, and lesbians do recognize my name. As I moved away from those early themes, I wondered if the community would continue to support me. They have. I’m just not so sure that the gay and lesbian media maintains an interest. Like any member of a marginalized group, I’ve learned to make my own opportunities.”
Pat Catterson has choreographed 88 dances and taught at Sarah Lawrence, the Juilliard School, Marymount Manhattan, and UCLA. She’s the daughter of professional ballroom dancers.
“I’d already been choreographing when I came out. My dancers were straight. After a while, I began to sense a distance, and I noticed that [after rehearsals] boyfriends or husbands would come to whisk their women away! There in the Midwest in the ’70s, lesbians clustered together like high school girls. I didn’t speak the lingo or wear the uniform. I still consider myself a minority within a minority, not fitting in totally anywhere. My work is not particularly gay-identified. There’s always some woman muse in my dances but not a lot of groping. I made a love story where two women kiss on the mouth. They were uncomfortable—gay men would have been more into it. It’s an effort to get women students to be assertive. Being gay throws into relief the pros and cons of being a woman. When I have a meeting with a straight man from a funding source or a potential collaborator, if it doesn’t go smoothly I think it’s because I wasn’t flirtatious enough.
“Once, at a liberal school where I taught, I heard someone say, about a lesbian student, ‘Oh, God! Not another one!’ Students knew about me—they’d see me at bars and dances—but I wasn’t out to the faculty. I didn’t say anything. I’ll never make that mistake again. I find that acceptance of your ‘otherness’ gives you a certain strength that carries over into your work. Deborah Jowitt reviewed an early dance of mine, referring to my ‘apologetic attitude.’ It was true: I undermined myself. Now I stand beside what I make: Take it or leave it. This makes me more tolerant of others’ differences. But I also know I’m more than a list of categories. No one label completely defines who I am.”
“It’s Not the Meat: Lesbian Choreographers Redefine Motion” by Sara Wolf
Anne Gadwa’s work appears at the HERE/Dixon Place “FUSE NYC Celebration of Queer Culture” on June 16, and at WOW Café Theatre June 26 (with Jennifer Monson), 27, and 29. Jen Abrams can be seen at HERE on June 17. Visit here.org and wowcafe.org/monste for full details.