Trans Choreographer Roots for In-Betweens

Beck Heiberg fuses dance styles to tell the story of someone living between genders.
January 12, 2016

(Beck Heiberg)

When Beck Heiberg began transitioning from female to male as a teenager, there was an added layer to the process: assuming a new role as a dancer. In the rigid binary of the classical dance world, where men lift and women lightly tiptoe, Heiberg felt pressure to fit into the masculine template of his peers. It wasn’t until one teacher introduced him to vogue that his identity as a dancer crystalized.

“It freed me,” says Heiberg, who hails from Copenhagen. “I realized with vogue I can still be feminine and be a non-conforming male.”

Heiberg brings this freedom to the stage with Roots, which he choreographed for three dancers. The piece will premiere at FLICfest, an alternative dance festival opening January 21 at the Irondale Center. Roots is inspired by a popular Swedish book, Eli Levén’s You Are the Roots That Sleep at My Feet and Keep the Earth in Place. The story’s protagonist is Sebastian, a biological male who also identifies as Ellie. Rather than transitioning, Sebastian finds a way to foster both gender identities, and in a sense unravels a third—a discovery that parallels Sebastian’s lover’s own struggle as a straight-identified cis male who must reconcile loving someone between genders.

This duality is also present in Heiberg’s choreography. By fusing seemingly disparate styles like vogue, classical, jazz , and waacking—which, like vogue, also takes its cues from black and Latino underground culture—Heiberg tells Levén’s tale by presenting movements that resist being anchored in a single genre. 

“I really like using those styles to give more agency to the bodies not fitting into society,” he says. “I want to expand the ways we think we can move as male or female, or whatever’s in between.”

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