Artist Profile: Daniel Chen, Dancer
Every Sunday afternoon, Daniel Chen dashes into a ninth floor dance studio on Dunhua Road where an eager gaggle of gay students awaits, and his presence immediately doubles the already boisterous energy-level. In this classroom, we are grateful to find a place to be our flamboyant, silly gay selves, and Daniel provides us with a never-ending supply of queer cheer. As soon as his iPhone is hooked up to the speakers, we know that the familiar and comforting sonic vibrations of Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, and Lady Gaga will (often literally) kick-start us through the week's new routine. Our class comprises a mix of foreign and local twenty-somethings, all taking a break from wondering, “What is life?” to forget ourselves for 90 minutes as we giggle, sweat, and twerk. One day after class, I sat down with Daniel to find out more about his time as a hip-hop dance instructor.
Daniel, a native to Taipei, first started dancing in his early teens, being dragged along by some friends to a hip hop class. He took to it quickly, realizing his dormant talent, and by the time he turned 18, a studio had signed him to teach full-time. After a year at the studio, he moved to teaching freelance classes at studios and gyms around Taipei. His dance credits have included big-name tours around Taiwan, even as a dancer for the legendary Taiwanese pop star, A-mei.
But freelance life can be taxing, I found out. My post-practice dinner with Daniel was his first bite of the day. A later teaching schedule often means he rises late,teaches late, and can never seem to figure out what meal he is eating. While lots of gay men have body issues, the topic is even more ubiquitous to dancers. Daniel calls himself a “plus-sized dancer”, and notes that this has limited his job opportunities. At auditions for tours, the adjudicators may mention that the male dancers need to be shirtless, meaning plus-sized dancers without cheese-grater eight-packs and mermaid lines need not apply. On top of worrying about nutrition, there is the risk of injury. Our class was cancelled one week because Daniel's knee suddenly gave out from overexertion. Although we mocked him relentlessly for having sore knees and the sexual innuendos implied therein, it was also a too-obvious reminder of how precarious a freelance life can be when it relies on maintaining physical health.
A few months ago, a dozen or so of us were drinking at one of the outdoor bars in Ximen. We were a mix of local and foreign gay twenty-somethings who all had some friend in common, but more importantly, the thing we really had in common was the need to drink, relax, and celebrate making it through another work week. Possibly he pitied us after seeing our moves at the monthly WERK party at Triangle. Possibly he realized we would jump at the chance and he could a little more pocket money. More probably, he just says random things when drunk. Whatever the reason, we latched onto the idea and the all-gay dance class tradition (plus the occasional straight girl) was begun.
I asked Daniel how his sexuality has affected his career. He shrugged and said that the dance world is pretty accepting. The only discrimination comes in the form of personal style. Daniel dances hip-hop and jazz, but he admits that if the choreo calls for macho old-school hip-hop, he probably isn't the guy for the job. Daniel's style is less hard-hitting and more flowing. As he frequently shouts during class: “THINK HAIROGRAPHY!”
Like many of his fellow Taiwanese friends, Daniel has been wondering if he should stay in Taiwan or try for a change of scenery. Issues of visas, gay rights, and job opportunities often come up and for Daniel these are issues he is currently weighing. Taiwanese pop stars' Asian tours are a big opportunity he has been eyeing. And he's even been entertaining offers to teach outside of Taiwan. The mainland has opportunities to teach choreography to dancers in nightclubs. He has thought recently of accepting a job offer in northern China, adjacent to Mongolia, teaching dancers (read: strippers?) for a few months in a nightclub, but rumors of artist abuse and dubious contracts have made Daniel hesitate. He also is unsure what kind of romantic prospects would be available in the Mainland. During water breaks, the topic of our love lives is always an entertaining, drama-filled way both to catch up and to catch our breath.
For the trifecta of culture, career, and romance, it seems his ideal place is Los Angeles. When Daniel talks about his previous trip to L.A., his eyes get wistful and he involuntarily grins. Currently,the freelance hip-hopper is saving up for a trip back to the city, where he will suss out opportunities later this year. Meanwhile, while Daniel ponders a move to another city in another country, our class dances on, an ephemeral (in my case emphasis on the ‘femme’) hodgepodge of young queers who each week are allowed a place and time to be our fabulous selves, thanks to Daniel.
(Editing: Cat Jensen)
(翻譯：Lian Tsai；編輯：LEEWANG Ching)