The DC Cowboys, a 20-member internationally acclaimed all-male gay dance company, has been setting trends in country-western dance entertainment since 1994. Our high-energy choreography thrills crowds around the Washington DC metropolitan area, across the US, and in Canada. As a grant recipient from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, we have been honored for our “valued contribution to the Washington, DC arts community”. Our tag line of celebrating diversity through dance is so apropos.
We truly are a unique dance company in that we are gay men, dance in cowboy boots and volunteer our time while working full time day jobs. The dancers’ experience levels range from professional to some formal training to no training at all. The dancers, aged 24–44, rehearse once a week for two hours in the fellowship hall of a local church. We maintain a repertoire of about eight songs from the pop, country and Broadway genres.
This year we learned four new dance routines from three different choreographers. Our senior choreographer, Ernie Ritchey, created a jazzy, high-energy number to KT Tunstall’s “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” and also designed a 1940s-era military number to the swingin’ “Candyman” by Christina Aguilera. Craig Cipollini choreographed to Keith Urban’s “Days Go By,” which is an upbeat country song. Our newest choreographer, Carlos Barillo, a high school choral director, brought us a toe-tapping, highly physical routine to Sugarland’s “Down in Mississippi … And Up to No Good.” It typically requires three to four rehearsals to learn the new choreography followed by several weeks of cleaning before we debut a number in front of an audience. As new numbers are added, older song are retired, usually after two years.
Our audiences are from the gay community, specifically men. While we are not strippers, we recognize and capitalize on our sex appeal when marketing ourselves. In addition to our dancing, we’ve begun to brand ourselves as a product through an interactive website, extensive photo and video galleries and our merchandise (t-shirts, sexy pinup calendars and DVDs). We actively seek corporate sponsorships and patrons to keep the organization financially stable. We even brand our fans with temporary DC Cowboys logo. There is nothing like a fan walking with our logo prominently displayed on their body!
While marketing and sex appeal is important in creating a name, we pride ourselves in giving back to the community. Our organization’s mission is to provide high-quality, professional-level dance entertainment at no cost for benefits that raise money to provide services to people living with HIV/AIDS as well as for AIDS prevention programs.
Our season begins in January and goes through October or November, depending on our performance schedule. While many people think we line dance or two-step, we do neither in our performances. Our style is based in jazz and popularly described as “Cowboy Broadway.” We hold annual auditions and select the most qualified recruits and put them through a rigorous training camp before they join the veterans at the beginning of the calendar year.
Here are some highlights from the 2007 season. After being selected as one of the national headliners at the Gay Games VII at Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field in 2006, we were wondering how we could possibly top that this year. We didn’t have to wait long. In February, we performed on the RSVP Caribbean Fantasy Cruise for gay men as the opening acts for such recording artists as Grammy-winner Thelma Houston, Billie Myers and Kristine W on different nights. In April, we shared the stage at American University’s Goldberg Theater with DC-based Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh & Company. Besides our annual events in the DC area like the Northern Virginia AIDS Ministries’ annual fundraiser, the Capitol Pride Festival, the Atlantic Stampede gay Rodeo and other local benefits, we traveled to pride festivals, benefits or gay rodeos in Philadelphia, PA; Jacksonville, FL; Catskills of New York, and Las Vegas.
We’re already working on a few new marketing and fundraising projects for late 2007 and early 2008. These include a special “behind the scenes” DVD entitled, DC Cowboys Dance Company Exposed – On stage and at play, showcasing live performances, photo shoot footage with some nudity (of course) and fun interviews with the dancers. In addition, we plan to release a 2009 pin-up calendar and “making of” DVD next summer featuring photos taken in the Caribbean during the RSVP cruise. Photographed on a nude beach in St. Maarten, this fourth edition of the calendar is sure to be even more risqué than ever before. We may call it the Cowboys of the Caribbean Calendar.
In any case, we hope to return to another gay cruise in addition to our regular travel across the U.S. and Canada. It’s never a dull moment, and as I always remind my dancers, “you can’t get this anywhere else”!
Kevin Platte is the Artistic Director of The D.C. Cowboys.