The art of dance has long been a bastion of acceptance and expression, and especially so in the LGBTQIA+ community. From Baltimore’s ballroom scene to the vibrant Baltimore Club dance community, nightclubs and the cover of darkness have long offered an escape. A freedom of self. A place where anyone can just be. This freedom of self through dance is depicted in TT The Artist’s new documentary “Dark City Beneath The Beat.”
A complex narrative with many stories, “Dark City” explores the different faces of Baltimore Club. Created in the 1990s by a mixture of musicians (including 2 Live Crew’s Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell, and queer city icon Miss Tony) and since then, it has been intrinsically tied to the Harlem’s community.
During a phone interview, dancer Deniim Jones, a long-respected figure and dancer featured in “Dark City” talks about her experiences as a trans woman in Baltimore: “I didn’t have to try to fit in, or do certain things because everyone already knew who I was. They respect my transition, they don’t disrespect me, and they just took me for who I was. The way that I carry myself, I don’t have too much of a problem being accepted, not that I care [laughs].”
Jones further expands on this idea of family and community, detailing the support she found while transitioning. “It’s definitely a family scene, even though we all have our ups and downs, little petty beefs here and there. No matter what. At the end of the day, we’re all family, regardless of blood or not. Having that type of acceptance just makes me wish it was easier for everyone else. Because you’re not accepted that easily nowadays, at all,” says Jones. “To be accepted, for everyone to be comfortable around me, for them to make me feel comfortable means so much to me. So, I’m going to love it [laughs], continue to be me, and strive!”
Fellow dancer Marquis Clanton, also featured in the documentary defines the culture around Baltimore Club in similar terms, expounding even further on the close ties in the community. “It’s more of a subculture within itself. It’s somewhat underground, because you see it, you know about it, and you hear about it, but you have to be around people that are a part of it. That’s where the family comes in,” says Clanton, on the phone. “Once you understand the culture, you choose your family and you choose friends… Y’all call each other brother, sisters, some of the younger ones start to call you mothers and fathers, things like that, and it all comes from dancing.”
Marquis Clanton adds that: "It’s just about the love of dancing, and everyone’s way of connecting through the art. It’s about freedom of expression. In the beginning I couldn’t be my true self because I was worried about everyone’s opinion. but once I realized I was talented and gifted, I started to be myself.”
Dance is meant to feel like home. It’s meant to feel like family, a community, where freedom of expression is encouraged, and personal judgement is not. "Dark City" strives to recognize the contributions of marginalized people within the dance and art communities. As TT The Artist said over the phone: “Queer folk and women have made so many contributions to the entertainment business, we just don’t talk about it enough or give its due respect, and I’m definitely using my platform to illuminate the incredible hidden figures that are pushing it forward.”
In “Dark City,” we see that community, that family. And it’s a beautiful sight.