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Normalizing Male Vulnerability

Choreographer, director, and dancer Joshua Beamish. | ALEX BRINSON

BY DAVID NOH | “Saudade” is the title of the newest dance piece by 30-year-old Canadian Joshua Beamish.

“It’s a Portuguese word,” the handsome dancer/ director/ choreographer told Gay City News at the Hudson Diner, “that has no direct English translated equivalent. The closest I can come to is that it’s a feeling that is intangible, a longing or yearning that is not attached to any particular state or time, and can refer to the past, present, and future. It’s a feeling that someone or something is missing.

“This work is an ensemble piece, with six male dancers. I had predominantly been working with ballerinas and I wanted to work with men so I could have a direct representation of what I can make on my own body. Although I never intended it this way, what emerged was something very autobiographical with the six men all representing either myself or ones I have dated and the relationships we had and what they became. Because for the last seven years, I have had all of these relationships that never quite became a boyfriend situation, which makes them all the more difficult to get over because they were never actualized.

Joshua Beamish’s romantic gay view of the world

“So you live in a constant state of possibility because you never had any closure as they never really existed. I feel that gay men all go through something like this because from a very early age we are supposed to think that we will be with women but then you realize from an early age that that’s not who you are. So you are ready for a funeral for that version of your life. And these relationships which follow always hover around every new connection you make in your life.

“I danced in this when we did it in Toronto and here last year only because of other dancers’ scheduling issues, but I prefer not to. I get too stressed out if someone makes a mistake. It pulls me out of my performance, for which I never have enough rehearsal time, anyway. I have to stay outside the dance for the longest time I can to be able to direct it, and that ends up compromising my ability to perform. I’m a director and choreographer who likes performing. But I’m not driven and don’t live for it.”

Joshua Beamish’s newest dance piece “Saudade.” | GERARDO VIZMANOS

“Saudade” has no set and many of its visual effects are achieved through lighting. The dancers wear a version of everyday street clothes and are, at times, shirtless.

“I do this at various times, to express a degree of vulnerability, exposing or sexualizing them in a definitive way. I wanted to make a piece that would hopefully transcend to a more universal audience, that doesn’t overtly sexualize people because that’s what we do to each other. I know I want to be valued for something more.”

It soon became obvious that Beamish is a true romantic and rather frustrated by the fact that, although we have gained acceptance from society and accessibility to guys is only an Internet click away, gay men are still too obsessed with surface beauty and physicality, and terrified to go deeper.

“Things have become more transactional, but there’s something missing from my generation. Before, when gay men were coming out, they needed each other because they were often exiled from families. Your friends became your family and men had to be compassionate and value one another.

“Now there’s no need for that so we don’t need each other anymore. It’s fascinating to me that although we can have it all and are now socially acceptable, even men who want relationships are so afraid of them. That’s been true of every guy I’ve dated. I’m not afraid of it, but I’m also a creator in a constant state of self-reflection. When I meet someone I wonder, ‘Is this going to be my next boyfriend, which would demand a whole change of life for me?’ I’m never in the same place for more than three days which means I would have to block off dedicated time to stay wherever they are, which also requires that other person not panicking that I want to spend more time with them.”

The “weird” behaviors Beamish talked about encountering while dating night seem extreme but are really not that uncommon in this tech-soaked, confusing age.

“This guy I was seeing for most of last year could not relate to me in a normal way, like two men in person — it was usually text messaging or Grindr. We would literally be standing there, talking, when he’d suddenly drop out and walk away, no ‘see you later’ or awareness whatsoever.

“That was the weirdest thing for me to deal with because the electricity between us was palpable but the only way he could process the intensity was to walk away. My intention through my work is normalizing male vulnerability — which is sort of a foreign concept in our world — also gay sensitivity and compassion for one another in a romantic sense. There are all these mainstream caricatures where we are either hypersexualized or asexual, which I also think is our own fault for perpetuating some of those ourselves.”

Although Beamish’s mother was a dance teacher, it was far from easy for him to come out to her.

“My mom’s really not okay with it. I think it’s that thing there of being okay with homosexuality as long as it’s not right in front of you. She had gay friends but they were all the way over there. She’s gotten a lot better and makes an effort to ask if I’m seeing anyone. She wants to be accepting, but she was raised in a different way and this is not how her life was supposed to go without a daughter-in-law and those grandchildren.

“I’m not interested in that, at all. I knew ever since I was very young and sneaking into the locker room to stare at naked men and inviting my male friend to come over and play house with him as my wife. That was the director side of me! I did my first dance piece when I was 18, about a gay relationship, and that’s how it started the conversation with my mom, when she saw it. All I wanted to do in my small town was get good grades, learn to dance, and get out. I was socially isolated after age 11. Before that I was the most popular boy in my school. After that, my only friends were girls. The guys shunned me because I danced, and I was never interested in any of them. I was more attracted to older men, like my teachers.

“My father split when I was nine, and when I was 11, I asked not to see him any more. He was very Christian — the music on the radio — and the only gifts he gave me were Bibles. Once I was watching this PG-13 movie, ‘Angel Eyes’ with Jennifer Lopez, with a love scene on the beach, and he became so infuriated he threw the DVD cover across the room, left, and didn’t come back for two days.

“He became a missionary in Africa, came back, and I never see him now. Things have happened in my life, though, and people have showed up that made me feel it would be okay. I do believe in an awareness of the universe and connectedness but I choose not to think about that a lot, just try to stay open. I don’t believe in Christianity. I think organized religion disrupts a lot of Christianity, especially the fundamentalists in America: the outcry over two men in love becomes more important than love itself. How does that make sense? I think I’m a good person. If there’s any kind of religion that preaches that I’m wrong then it must be wrong. I realized all this from childhood and just took what’s valuable from religion and ignored everything else.”


JOSHUA BEAMISH | “Saudade” | Brooklyn Academy of Music, BAM Fisher, 321 Ashland Pl. btwn. Lafayette Ave. & Hanson Pl. | Oct. 11-14 at 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 15 at 3 p.m. | $25 at bam.org

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