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Hot to Trot: Inside the World of Same-Sex Competitive Ballroom Dance

“Dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire.” 

In the world of ballroom dancing, there is a strict gender construct. Men and women. That’s it. To qualify for competition you must have a male dancer as leader and a female dancer as follower. But where does leave members of the LGBTQ community? Rejecting the mainstream ballroom scene, a group of dancers have sought out their own way to participate in their beloved dancesport.

“It makes a difference when you get to dance with the gender you prefer.” – Benjamin Soencksen

In a new documentary by director and producer Gail Freedman, Hot to Trot explores the little known world of same sex ballroom dance. It follows the story of six dancers as they prepare for the 2014 Gay Games, the largest and most prestigious international same-sex dance competition in the world. In NYC we have Ernesto Palma, a former meth addict from Costa Rica who found a new appreciation for taking care of his body and embraces his love of dance. He starts off with partner Robbie Tristan, a Hungarian ballroom champ who runs a dance studio. But when Tristan has to leave the country for urgent medical care, he begins a new partnership with Nikola Shpakov, a Russian dancer who is coming to terms with his sexuality and his father’s traditional values. In San Francisco there is Emily Coles, a diabetic who wears an insulin pump 24/7, and Kieren Jameson, her dance partner. Coles struggles with her medical condition while pursuing her passion for dance. As Jameson starts to slip away, she recruits her partner Katerina Blinova to help her compete.


“Dance relationships are intimate in a way that no other relationship is.” – Emily Coles

The documentary follows these dancers over the span of four years leading up to the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland, Ohio and beyond. The film includes extensive interviews with the dances as well as their family members and spouses and judges, dance organizers and coaches. We follow as they train, compete and fall in love. Ballroom dancing is an emotional experience and the physicality of it requires the partners to be in tune with each other. It’s fascinating to see how the different pairs struggle with this as they prepare for the big day.

As a former non-competitive dancer, I was particularly fascinating with the training process. But what drew me in was how these dancers are breaking down gender binaries by rejecting the mainstream notion of male-female ballroom dancing. I wish the film had explored how these dancers made a living outside of their sport. I wanted to learn more about Tristan’s dance studio and what dream job was drawing Jameson away from ballroom dance. Did the dance support them enough or did they all have to work full-time jobs to make ends meet?

Hot to Trot shines a spotlight on the little-known world of same-sex ballroom dance and gives the dancers the platform they deserve. Their stories are joyful but come from a place of emotional pain. This compelling documentary is a must-see for anyone interested in dance or the LGBTQ community.

Hot to Trot opens August 24th at the Quad Cinema in New York City and September 14th at the Laemmle in Los Angeles. Other cities to follow. Visit the First Run Features website for more information.

Update: Hot to Trot is available on iTunes and Amazon VOD 1/29/19 and on DVD 2/5/19.

Porcupine Lake

Life for 13-year-old Bea (Charlotte Salisbury) is in a state of transition. Living with her mom Ally (Delphine Roussel) in Toronto, the two head north to Parry Sound, Ontario to spend time with her father Scotty (Christopher Bolton).  Her parents are separated and on the brink of divorce but take the summer to re-evaluate their marriage. Scotty runs a diner, the Snack Shack, the central hub for the small community. It’s there that Bea meets Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall), another girl her age. The two lock eyes and instantly connect. They’re as opposite as they come. Bea is awkward, quiet, thoughtful and  Kate is outspoken, self-assured, abrupt. They both come from broken homes but where Bea has caring parents, Kate has a strung out mother, angry sister and mentally disturbed brother. Bea and Kate quickly develop a bond that goes deeper than just friendship. On the cusp of womanhood, these two sort through their feelings for each other and must deal with the escalating dramas in their respective families. Bea and Kate’s story is one of love and friendship told over one glorious summer.

Bea and Kate


Porcupine Lake was written, produced and directed by Canadian filmmaker Ingrid Veninger, founder of pUNK films. In an interview Veninger said about the film: “Porcupine Lake is a story I’ve wanted to tell for years.”  The idea came to her while she was in a writing workshop led by actress Melissa Leo. Veninger goes on to say,

“All of my films have been personal — not autobiographical but always a combination of fiction and real experience. When I was 12, my father managed a roadside snack bar in northern Ontario. I spent many endless summers wanting a best friend so badly, but mostly I was left alone to be with my boredom and solitude, and ultimately, my imagination.”

The film was shot on location in Parry Sound and the surrounding area. During production another movie, a behind-the scenes documentary called The Other Side of Porcupine Lake, was film simultaneously.

Over 50 girls auditioned for the parts of Bea and Kate. Veninger was looking for young actresses who were natural in their instincts but could also be true to the characters. She found two gems with Salisbury and Hall.

Porcupine Lake is a sensitive portrayal of two young girls on the precipice of change. It brilliantly depicts the attraction between two people who are totally captivated by each other. It also does a fantastic job exploring family dynamics and capturing small town life. The lead actresses were totally convincing. I was drawn in by the story so much that I was already craving a sequel by the end. It’s like a quieter Heavenly Creatures (1994) without the tragic intensity.

If you’re looking for a good coming-of-age LGBT story, look no further than Porcupine Lake.

Porcupine Lake is distributed by Breaking Glass Pictures and will be available on DVD and digital on August 14th. The DVD includes the behind-the-scenes documentary.


My Favorite LGBTQ Films for Pride Month

Happy Pride Month! I’ve been on a major LGBTQ film kick this year and have been discovering and re-discovering some great movies. To celebrate Pride I thought I’d share with you my favorite LGBTQ films and what I love about each.

CMBYNCall Me By Your Name (2017) – To say this film changed my life is an understatement. It awakened something in me that’s been dormant in my life. It led to an identity crisis that took me a few months to sort through. I’m a card carrying CMBYN fanatic. I have the Blu-Ray, the Andre Aciman’s original novel, James Ivory’s screenplay (and yes I’ve read both) and the Mania tee inspired by Ivory’s shirt he wore for the Oscars. I talk about this film all the time to anyone who will listen. I introduced it to my friend Vanessa who fell in love with it even more than I did (read the post about her experience here). CMBYN begs to be obsessed over. Set in one of the most beautiful places on earth with two dynamic actors Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer playing two of the most wonderful fictional characters Elio and Oliver, there is little not to love about this movie. There are so many wonderful scenes that it’s hard to choose a favorite but the moment two have in a little nook as Oliver helps Elio with his nosebleed is tender, sweet and sexy in a way that makes me want to fall out of my chair every time I watch it.

MauriceMaurice (1987) – Think CMBYN but released three decades earlier and set in the beginning of the century and you have Maurice. Directed and co-written by James Ivory, the story is based on E.M. Forester’s posthumous novel by the same name. It explores the story of Maurice (James Wilby), a young man at university who falls for fellow student Clive (Hugh Grant). When a fellow classmate goes to jail for indecency, homosexuality was illegal back then, Clive tries to go straight. Maurice then finds love with Clive’s groundsman Alec (Rupert Graves). You can see the parallels between Maurice and CMBYN down to the picnic scenes and train station farewells. Maurice has a much more satisfying ending though and lifted me up when CMBYN got me down.

Further reading:  James Ivory on the making of Maurice (1987) and the appeal of Call Me By Your Name (2017) #TCMFF

below_her_mouth-1Below Her Mouth (2016) – When I first watched this movie I wrote it off as an overly erotic lesbian drama. I’m glad I gave it a second shot because it quickly became one of my favorite LGBT movies and it rivals CMBYN for the #1 spot. Below Her Mouth is about a roofer Dallas (Erika Linder) and a fashion editor Jasmine (Natalie Krill) who develop an intense physical attraction for each other. The problem is Jasmine is engaged to a man. Linder and Krill have the best on screen chemistry I have ever witness in a movie EVER. It’s so palpable. They’re a perfect match. This film is nothing if not erotic. There are several graphic sex scenes and one could say not enough relationship building. But the sex comes from a female gaze and is more real than anything I’ve ever seen. The production team consisted of an all-female crew (a true rarity!) led by director April Mullen and producer Melissa Coghlan.

CarolCarol (2015) – Set in the 1950s, Carol is based on Patricia Highsmith’s story The Price of Salt. I was worried because of the period that this would break me but lucky for me it didn’t. It stars Cate Blanchett as the title character Carol. On the outside she seems like the perfect rich housewife, but wipe off the veneer and you see a struggling woman in the middle of a divorce and dealing with a society that won’t accept her sexuality. One day Carol meets and falls in love with shop clerk (Rooney Mara) and the two set off on a road trip together. The story is so good at building up the sexual tension that when the two finally have their love scene it was such a welcome relief. The costumes and set design are fantastic. While the film holds the viewer at a distance emotionally, I still felt that this was a sweet love story and depicted the reality of being a lesbian in mid-Century New York City.

MoonlightMoonlight (2016) – This coming-of-age film is beautiful and stark and relentless in its portrayal of the principal character Chiron in three different stages of his life. All three actors who played Chiron, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders and Alex Hibbert brought so much to the role. I’m fascinated that although they didn’t work with each other their own interpretations of Chiron were consistent with each other. Moonlight is haunting and raw and its a story that needed to be told. It’s an example of why representation matters. The final scene when adult Chiron has a tender moment with the only man who ever touched him, Kevin (Andre Holland), is powerful. When I watched this for the first time it was at home and I replayed that final scene over and over and over again until I finally convinced myself to let it go. I also loved the scene when Mahershala Ali’s Juan explains the word f***** to child Chiron. It’s what earned Ali his Oscar that’s for sure.


Brokeback Mountain (2005) – Directed by one of my favorites, Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain stars Jake Gyllenhaal and the late great Heath Ledger as two ranchers who fall in love but have to hide their relationship and live on as straight men. The title has become synonymous with gay romance. I love the famous line “I wish I knew how to quit you.” And that sad final scene with Heath Ledger embracing the shirt on a hanger left me sobbing and gasping for air. I avoided LGBT films for a long time because this one shattered my heart into a million pieces.

BlueisWarmestColourBlue is the Warmest Colour (2013) – This is a long film, told in two parts and clocks in at 3 hours. The story follows a teenager named Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) as she blossoms into womanhood and falls in love with the older Emma (Lea Seydoux), a sensual woman with a shock of blue hair. The story is about finding yourself and losing yourself and it is so relatable in many ways. It’s a problematic film, caught in the male gaze of director/producer Abdellatif Kechiche, who was said to have treated his cast and crew poorly. I question the lighting for the sex scenes between two women. If it wasn’t for Adele and Emma, two fascinating and dynamic characters, this film might have been a wash for me. Watch it for those two and the talented actresses who play them.

princess-cydPrincess Cyd (2017) – While the lesbian love story between Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) and Katie (Malic White) is just a sub-plot, it’s also the only interesting part of the whole movie. Cyd is a teenager whose family suffered a traumatic loss and when her father can’t deal with the aftermath she spends a summer at her aunt Miranda’s house. The two initially butt heads, Cyd an opinionated and free-spirited teen and Miranda, a famous author who needs to live a little, but soon come to learn from each other. Miranda’s story is depressing and hard to watch and on repeat views I found myself fast forwarding just to get to Cyd and Katie’s beautiful little love story. Malic White is a punk rock star turned actress and I love the on screen chemistry she has with Pinnick. Watch it once for the whole story and again just for Cyd and Katie. In fact I wouldn’t mind a sequel where these two are reunited.

All of these films are available on Netflix streaming or on DVD Netflix for rental.

What’s your favorite LGBTQ movie?

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