A&E

Santa Cruz County’s Inaugural BBQueer (Black, Brown and Queer) Fest

The debut of the multi-day dance and arts event showcases BIPOC/LGBTQ talent throughout Santa Cruz County.

MOVING CONVERSATION Gerald Casel, an associate professor of dance at UCSC and a co-producer of BBQueer, will facilitate the discussion “Dancing Around Race: A Longtable Conversation” as part of the festival. PHOTO: CRYSTAL BIRNS

A three-pronged collaboration between Motion Pacific, the Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center, and Gerald Casel Dance has birthed the first BBQueer (Black, Brown and Queer) Fest, a dance and arts festival created, led by and centering on BIPOC/LGBTQ artists and community members.

The festival highlights work and contributions from BIPOC/LGBTQ artists and has quite the lineup, including a workshop in Mexican Folklorico dance at the Tannery led by Alex Santana, who dances with Esperanza del Valle Company in Watsonville; “Dancing Around Race: A Longtable Conversation” with Gerald Casel; the premiere of dawsondancesf’s September; and The Body Erotic, an evening of burlesque and cabaret performances.

In addition to these and other events, there will be popups in public spaces, such as the closed-off portion of Pacific Avenue between Lincoln and Cathcart Streets, where Casel’s company will perform Sunday afternoon. 

The kernel of the idea sprung from Melissa Wiley and partner Molly Katzman, who both teach and perform through Motion Pacific. After hosting Majesty—a queer dance party, burlesque and drag show—they were wanting to create “more queer spaces to dance and have fun, and have something happen for longer that was queer-focused around the arts and performance,” Wiley says. And so BBQueer was set, quite literally, into motion.

“When we were approached by Motion Pacific to co-produce BBQueer, we were thrilled with how in-line the mission of the festival was with our work,” says Angela Chambers, who is the development director and programs manager as well as teaching artist at Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center and part of the BBQueer team. “Motion Pacific already does such an incredible job curating programming for LGTBQ+ residents; it has been an honor learning from and working with them and Gerald Casel Dance to center this work on our Black, Brown and Queer community members.”

Wiley, who moonlights as a burlesque performer, is bringing together performers who have been doing shows together over the last several years throughout the Bay Area and L.A. for The Body Erotic. “I’m excited to bring us all together,” Wiley says. “Burlesque has quite a range—it can be funny, satirical, political … there is so much people can do with it. The Body Erotic is what I call sensual burlesque,” which springs from a dance class Wiley teaches.

“It is really exciting what it’s become,” Wiley says of the festival, which has garnered support from downtown Santa Cruz sponsors, including Cat & Cloud, Stripe, Soif, Oswald, Well Within, Botanic & Luxe and many more. A grant from the California Arts Council allowed the organizers to offer the events for free and pay performers.

“It’s a perfect response to Santa Cruz County declaring racism a public health crisis, and to elevate these two worlds I’m a part of, to bring people collectively to highlight and revel in our excellence,” Wiley says.

Santana, who is from Watsonville, points out that the group has prioritized its focus not only on Santa Cruz, but also across the county, representing “beyond just one community,” he says. “The great thing about being part of this group from its inception is that lots of us artists have never worked together before. We’re committed to the meaning and purpose of what BBQueer stands for—BIPOC and queer-identified. It brings a stronger sense of unity and resources than we would have struggled to find and access individually, but that folks in different circles have all experienced.”

Casel, whose eponymous dance company forms another key element of BBQueer Fest’s organization and leadership, highlights the fact that the festival’s intersectional focus transcends the thematic aspect of the event itself; it is deeply rooted in how the organizing for BBQueer is structured. As Casel puts it, “The way in which we’re organizing challenges norms in hierarchical organizations.” Rather than a top-down format, BBQueer’s organizers formed “leadership circles” of BIPOC, allies, and organizational administration. The three-part collaboration between Motion Pacific, TWDCC and Gerald Casel Dance, he says, can be visualized “in terms of circles, which takes away the verticals of patriarchy and capitalism.”

Casel had lived in Santa Cruz prior to moving to San Francisco. During Covid, he found himself pulled back. “I’d never felt like I belonged here as a brown queer person,” he says. “I really wanted to do something about that.”

BBQueer events take place at both indoor and outdoor venues from Thursday, September 30th to Sunday, October 3rd. https://bbqueerfest.com.

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