By: Jackie McNeill
Tottering Biped Theatre, a Hamilton-based theatre company founded by Trevor Copp, has reached over 600,000 views on a TED Talk about ‘liquid lead dancing,’ a gender neutral form of partner dancing.
Several McMaster alumni are involved in the theatre company, particularly with their summer Shakespeare work held at the Royal Botanical Gardens.
The theatre is social justice-focused, devising works that have addressed issues like poverty, same sex marriage and mental health and different interpretations of Shakespeare.
However, as prominent as the theatre’s work is, it is not what Copp is arguably best known for.
In 2015, he and his colleague Jeff Fox delivered a TED Talk in Montreal on a dance concept they developed called ‘liquid lead dancing.’
Liquid lead dancing, a form of gender neutral partner dance, was born out of Copp’s discomfort with the systems and rules he was perpetuating as a ballroom dance teacher.
As explained in their TED Talk, the strictly gendered partner dancing promotes a relationship shaped by dictation, where the man leads and the woman follows.
He and Fox developed liquid lead dancing to turn this dictation into a negotiation.
“It proposes a system where lead and follow are exchanged throughout the course of the dance regardless of gender,” Copp explained.
This change of form will hopefully become normalized as a dance and help to normalize healthy relationships outside of partner dance as well.
The liquid lead dance between Copp and Fox morphed into a play about creating the first dance for a same sex wedding.
After a successful run of the play, a former student contacted Copp about presenting their dance form as a TED talk.
Copp and Fox’s TED talk was picked up by TED.com, and has over 600,00 views to date.
Despite the success of the TED talk, Copp admits that it has not been all smooth sailing promoting liquid lead dancing.
“Most people are comfortable with their given role, and, even though they aren't particularly traditional in their thinking, allow it to decide their roles as dancers. There's comfort in the familiar. I don't begrudge it at all. I just think that if you're going to recreate a culturally outdated form you should be conscious of it by making a choice to do so as opposed to sleepwalking your way through the dance form.”
Acknowledging that the work he had done with liquid lead dance is not that well-known in Hamilton, Copp is aiming to work harder at spreading the dance form in the future.
As explained in the TED Talk, liquid lead dancing is not about dance alone.
By addressing the strict roles perpetuated in partner dancing, Copp and Fox have begun to address the erasure of non-binary people and same-sex couples in dance, in addition to the exclusion of Black, Asian and other non-white bodies.
By bringing these issues that are prevalent within ballroom and partner dance to a wider audience with the TED Talk and Copp’s theatre company, the same issues that are prevalent in everyday life stand a better chance at being addressed.
Copp has performed liquid lead dance at conferences throughout Ontario, New York and Ireland and is looking forward to next presenting at a conference on consent and sexuality with Planned Parenthood in Virginia.