Interview: Andrew Gao

Cheek-to-cheek with the organiser of the Beijing LGBT Dance Workshop

We talk to former China national dance champion and founder of the Beijing LGBT Dance Workshop Andrew Gao about his trip to Blackpool, why LGBT people love Argentine Tango, the LGBT community in China and what the future holds for his dance workshop.

You’re no amateur when it comes to dance, are you?

I used to represent China internationally in ballroom and Latin dance. I was China champion three times, and ranked sixth in Asia. I went to Blackpool to compete in the Blackpool Dance Festival – that really was a glorious time.

You’re remarkably qualified – did you always want to be a dancer?

I started dancing when I was three. Both of my parents are sculptors, and they wanted me to study sculpture. But as a young boy I was very energetic – I couldn’t sit still – and I told my mum I wanted to learn dance. Back then, all the students were girls, so my first teacher taught me really well, and I kept studying – for 21 years, from then until now.

Is the dance scene in China a gay-friendly place?

If you go to, for example, the Beijing Dance Academy, and you meet ten guys, then nine of them will be gay. It’s very common. But lots of guys don’t come out. A lot of Chinese dancers don’t know how to express their emotion anyway. At Chinese dance schools, the technique is solid, but the emotion isn’t there. I get a lot of comfort from dancing. I can use it to express my emotion. If I’m really pissed off by someone, or something, I just create a new piece and let it out. I just want to be myself. I don’t care what people say; I’ll keep doing what I’m trying to do.

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What prompted you to launch the workshop?

I was working at the Beijing LGBT Centre as a volunteer, and I noticed there were no activities like this, so I decided to start this dance class. It didn’t work out the first time, and I took a long break, but then my friend Pablo Molina contacted me and helped me organise the first Beijing LGBT Dance Workshop [in September of 2014].

What’s the gender balance like at the workshop? And what classes do you offer?

We pretty much have equal numbers of Chinese people and foreigners, guys and girls – and they’re getting along! I’ve taught my class Argentine tango, and right now I’m teaching salsa. Maybe later they’ll want to learn Bollywood, or disco. People identify with different specific kinds of dance.

Are some styles more popular with LGBT people?

Argentine tango. We started the class because Pablo showed me a video of two men dancing Argentine tango, and they kept changing roles, from leader to follower. When we do this in class, it’s so much fun for the students. Once they get going, they really get into it – the passion, the love-hate spirit of the dance. Gay people love all that!

Will we get to see the fruits of your labour in public?

My dream is to be a choreographer. I have a lot of ideas. That’s one of the original reasons I started this workshop. I want to create a piece of work to show during Pride. I’m hoping my students and I can premiere our own project at a party or an event, and get some new blood involved in our workshop, and, ultimately, develop our own signature piece. Maybe even organise an LGBT dance competition. For now, though, I’m already really happy that they can keep coming every Monday night!

Do you feel that the social options LGBT people have in Beijing are limited?

LGBT people often feel they have to hide their identity. At our workshop, they can just be themselves. I once met a girl at my dance studio who also volunteered for the LGBT Center. She was obviously uncomfortable and struggling where she was. I wanted to offer an environment to be free, where there’s no holding back. People are sharing things, and communicating. You don’t need to pay a lot of money; the students just share the rent for the studio. Life’s not about money – you need something else to get you through it. Art can help you with that.

The Beijing LGBT Dance Workshop meets every Monday at 8.30pm. Due to limited space, contact Andrew directly at 151 2007 2880 or via WeChat: andrew880203 to book a place.