Dancing for Daniel Phoenix Singh is a passion, a notion with which many artists can relate. So much so, in fact, that he essentially works two full-time jobs to make it happen.
He works in information technology by day (“To pay the bills,” he says) and spends four or five days a week dancing with his eponymous group, the Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company, a seven-year-old outfit of 14 dancers that specializes in modern American, classical and traditional Indian dance. Their next performances are next weekend (April 2-3) at Dance Place in Washington where they’ll perform “By the Light,” a dance the late D.C. choreographer Eric Hampton created while suffering the latter stages of the Lou Gehrig’s disease to which he eventually succumbed.
“It’s really about what dance meant to him,” Singh says. Go to danceplace.org for information.
Singh grew up in India but moved to the U.S. when he was 17 in 1990. He chose “Phoenix” as a translation of his middle name because his Indian name was too long to fit on his passport and green card. Dakshina means offering in Sanscrit, a name he chose to honor his company’s Indian roots. Four of its male members, including Singh, are gay. He says queer sensibilities inform his work in several ways.
“I never think of gender in terms of casting,” he says. “I might cast two men for a dance, two women or a man and a woman. It’s whoever does the work the best. It’s very freeing for me. I have a strong interest in social justice that comes from my LGBT sensibilities, and also an awareness of how the arts can be used to speak to something larger. It’s not just something that’s pretty, it’s a way to address something that’s relevant to our lives.”
Singh is single and lives in Petworth. He enjoys reading, napping, chocolate, movies, cooking, working out and biking in his spare time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve been out for close to 15 years now. The hardest person to tell was my mother, she didn’t know what gay meant. So it was a bit difficult/humorous to try to explain and come out at the same time — perhaps more humorous in hindsight. When I first came out, it made me reel that someone who loved me so much — that she gave up a comfortable life in India to work 80-90 hours a week so I could have a good education and life — could hate a part of me so unquestioningly because of what her church told her. But she has had a pretty incredible change of heart. Props to my mom, even though she doesn’t understand it completely and is still a pretty conservative Christian, she grew to accept me and love me again.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Audre Lorde, she lived a composite, nuanced, self-analytical, socially conscious/active, artistic life that I covet.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Chaos! I loved Chaos and miss the space where people from diverse backgrounds and age groups gathered to dance the night away. My favorite memory of Chaos is when a young guy brought his grandmother to the drag show that happened before the Salsa nights.
Describe your dream wedding.
Intellectually, I’m not sure I believe in the institution of marriage — it’s too hetero-normative for me. But my heart strings still tug when I see a traditional Indian wedding, and I’m always the first person to start crying when a couple begin saying their vows.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
I’m very passionate about the arts. I’m concerned that we as a community don’t realize the long-term effects of this steady decline in engaging with the arts whether it is in the K-12, general public, senior citizens or immigrant communities. To me it is inconceivable to define a progressive developed society without the arts having a central role. There is a lot of talk about the loss of nuance, abstraction and engagement in our conversations (both social and political). People often take the most polarized views, everything comes down to a yes/no check box and then they wonder why we can’t get along or move forward. To me, the arts is about the subtleties of life, about finding the gray areas and looking at life from various angles. Most importantly art is about self-reflection and awareness — something critical for us to grow as a society.
What historical outcome would you change?
There are several things I’d like to change. I don’t know where to start.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
When Dana Fuchs, one of the heroines in “Across the Universe” locked lips with me (among several others) at her concert.
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
Mornings = Bad.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Make everyone poly-sexual? If everyone loved everyone, maybe some of our problems will go away.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I don’t believe in an afterlife — learning to let go of the ego of permanence was a hard lesson for me. But I do believe integrity in our lived lives survives us.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
To find a community-based, grassroots solution to our host of issues, instead of trying to create a top-down abstract model. Have stakeholders present in very early planning stages, don’t just invite them as “community sponsors” after the main conversation has finished. And to try to frame issues as more than the hetero-homo binaries.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My dance company and my friends.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That we’re here to recruit.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Clubbing (different from dancing).
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
The MacArthur Fellowship
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That I should have started dancing earlier.
Like Goldilocks, it’s just the right size — not too big, not too small.