Interview: Life As A Black Male Dancer and Mainstream Masculinity With DMV Dancer, Devin Seldon
Meet Blogger and Creator Devin Seldon, but on Instagram he is known as butdevdoe. He is a Modern and Hip Hop Dancer in the DMV (D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) area who has no boundaries when it comes to dancing and he refers to himself as “Movement Artist”. I had the opportunity to meet with this cool guy this past weekend to get to know him, his thoughts and take on mainstream masculinity and its effects on dance, and his creative process.
LD: Thank you for coming to interview with Quirktastic Devin! I’m Lord Devery and I really appreciate you meeting with me. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what made you come to the DMV, if you’re not from here?
Dev: I came to this area because I was a dance major at University of Maryland. Go Terps! And then I stayed in the area due to me working in publishing outside of DC doing event planning, but I’ve been dancing since probably 6th grade. I started in theater, kind of got away from theater and more into dance.
LD: Did you do different types of dancing or was there one type that you specialized in after theater?
Dev: Before I went to college I was more so into jazz and African jazz and all that type of stuff or in technique or Ailey. But then when I went to Maryland, I fell in love with that. So, I really got into modern and then I think by my senior year I kind of started to develop my own style and figure out combining all the different movement styles I’m interested in over the years. My two big loves are hip-hop and modern. I hate ballet, I feel like it’s not for black people. Historically not for the black body. I was like, “This is not for me, I don’t want it.”
LD: I creeped your Instagram and it says movement artist, is that a type of dancing?
Dev: That’s just me being extra. I don’t really like to… You know how Childish Gambino says, “I’m not a rapper.” A lot of times I try to run from, the idea of dancer because I feel like people have a set vision of what that is and especially where I came from in school and stuff I think what we all were trained to do is more about being an artist than being just a dancer or a body that can do movement. I don’t like all the labels and expectations that go along with just being a dancer.
LD: How was your family support? Did your family support you dancing?
Dev: Well, I got a full scholarship for dance. It’s a funny story, I got into Maryland, well like, before Maryland stuff, they didn’t care, I always did theatre, I always did dance, they always supported me and came to my shows and that sort of thing. But I did have an inkling that if I tried to study dance, that they’d say, “We’re not paying for this.”, so I just didn’t tell them. So, I was a double major in marketing and dance and I was just like, “I’ll tell them I’m a marketing major and they don’t need to know. As long as I don’t fail they will never know.” And I think my sophomore or junior year my mom said, “Why are we always paying for all these dance books.” I never really lied, I just never told her everything.
Then, I got invited to perform at the Kennedy Center and I was like “If I don’t invite my mom to this, I’m going to get killed.” So, I told her then and she met all my professors and they said, “Yeah, we love having him.” And I was a Kappa scholar which is a creative performing arts scholar. So, I was very much a dancer, one of the dancers at the school. So, my mom was like, “Whaaa?” And I told her, “Yeah, I’m actually a dance major.” Once I got the scholarship, I was like, “She’s not about to be sending these checks to Maryland for nothing.” So, I told them and they didn’t really care. They were like, “you always just do what you want. “That’s just kind of the person I am.
LD: I’m glad you did your own thing and your parents found out eventually. I want to talk a little bit about masculinity and black males dancing. How do you feel that society deals with black males dancing?
Dev: I think it has changed overtime. I think dance in general is becoming a lot more accepted but I still think there’s a stigma with being a dancer. If I tell someone I’m a dancer, they’re like -- makes an apprehensive face -- kind of weird and uncommon. But I think there is a stigma around it. Especially in doing hip-hop and modern, more so like in the professional commercial dance world. Where I came from, my dance program was much more subversive. I always got kind of taken aback because I don't think about masculine and feminine due to that being something that I choose to not constrict myself to, so I think a lot of time I embrace being able to do both.
LD: So, has your mindset of not constricting yourself to masculine or feminine during dancing helped regarding dancing?
Dev: I think for me it has help just because that’s a big part of who I am as an artist. A lot of the work that I create is either designed to show you that as a man I can do this and I can do that, So a big part my style or my approach of dance is trying to combat norms and societal expectations to be a certain type of way just because I know when I started dancing, especially in college, and seeing older dancers in the program who were male, even women, dancing masculine or wearing masculine costumes based on what the choreographer wanted, just seeing that showed me that I can do different things and don't have to be like this one set way.
LD: I am glad you had seen other dancers around you combat norms in dance! So, if you had the chance to speak to our future black boy dancers that want to be creative or dance using one word or phrase, what would you say?
Dev: I would tell boys and myself “It’s not that serious” in that don’t worry about what everyone else is thinking or looking at you, because what I learned is when you live in your truth and start to embrace who you really are and your style is when people are like, “you’re dope. I wanna do this.” Everyone can see through the I’m uncomfortable in my body and how do I make this look masculine. It’s not that serious. Art is art. Dance is art. It’s meant to be fun, it’s meant to be something you can learn from. Only you can create what you make. Especially as a creator, more so like a choreographer, more so than a dancer. You’re creating something out of nothing. What you create is going to inspire or teach these people something about you and the way you view the world, so really make sure it’s authentic to you.
LD: Yess! I would buy a hat that had that quote on it!! So to get to know you a little more, what does your creative process consist of?
Dev: I’m weird so it’s like very different. One day I will be driving and I just must stop and write down all my thoughts some days it all comes in a dream. My last piece I, my last stage work I created of came from a flower and I did a whole dance about flowers, but it ended up being about heartbreak. It’s called Rosaline, so it’s like about roses and how things are beautiful but they hurt you and you still want it. A lot of times I start with a small idea and I start to uncover all these meanings that I subconsciously had and I have to dig it up. And another thing is, when I have to make something and I have a block, I learn this thing called authentic movement and so I learned about authentic movement in school but I’m not sure if that’s what’s called.
Authentic Movement is when you move with your eyes closed and someone watches you and then basically tells you what you do and then I made it my own, which is not new, other people do it too. If I’m in a studio by myself, I either play music or news clips, or something I’m inspired by that inspires the piece and I close my eyes and I put on a camera and I move throughout the space. It should be for a long time because you have to get out of your head and eventually you’re just start to authentically unpack what you’re going through and then you watch it.
LD: That is good that you can be vulnerable with yourself. That's something that a lot of men, especially black men, find challenging to do. Do you ever teach classes?
Dev: Yes, but not regularly anymore. I usually teach more in the DMV area just like workshops, sometimes I teach kids, and then I have a team and I teach them.
LD: And to wrap up this interview, what makes you quirky?
Dev: I would say, one I’m a black male dancer. Probably just my… Just myself. I guess there’s something… I know I’m different. [stupid 2 chains reference]