A member of Company XIV, a baroque-burlesque dance company based in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Nicholas explains uses movement and performance to challenge and sometimes downright ignore oppressive social constructs regarding masculinity.
“We fuse a lot of things into one show; using a combination of baroque dance, ballet, circus, opera, contemporary dance and burlesque to tell classic stories in ways people never imagined.We use people’s expectations of gender as a player in the story, challenging the way the audience interacts with us, especially in a sensual setting.
I can be a “man” wearing baroque heels, and a full face of makeup, and a pompadour wig made of paper, and a bra, and any number of other things while the “woman” I’m dancing with is wearing a codpiece and a jockstrap. Gender is fluid, masculinity is a contrived, femininity is a social construct and none of them matter.”
Nicholas knows a thing or two about what it means to feel othered. Not just as a queer man, but especially as a dancer who occupies a “strange space ethnically” where he is at once considered not quite White and not quite a person of color. And he’s made aware of that fact in many ways, some that are painful.
As he reflects, “I’m Middle Eastern—that is, my father is Syrian and Lebanese, and my mother is white. In the western dance traditions I grew up with, Middle Eastern only existed as belly dancers, the occupants of harems, Aladdin, ‘moors’, and more recently, terrorists. The irony of this is that the only time I’ve ever been asked to play a character that’s congruent with my ethnic heritage has been when I’ve played a terrorist, three times.
This is the result of the ongoing exoticism people from the Middle East have been experiencing for decades. But now, instead of being the dancers in the back wearing skimpy clothes, veils, and fezes, we’re holding the main characters hostage while wearing turbans, fake beards, and machine guns.”
And as a result, Nicholas strives to use his authentic self to push back, critique, and reimagine the possibilities through dance, making a deliberate attempt to move beyond the superficial rep of dancers often highlighted in shows like So You Think You Can Dance.
In more ways than one, Nicholas reminds us that, if all we’re focusing on are flips, split-leaps, and turns while ranking them on a score from 1 to 10, we’re missing the true power of dance and what it means to be a dancer.
“When people try to portray male dancers, they’re trying to portray the exceptional parts about us. And while that’s great, it’s not very interesting,” he says. “If more people would take that journey, however serious they are about it, they would realize dance isn’t a superpower. It is an innate human ability that we all possess but have forgotten.”