The DC Cowboys dance company is an all-male performing arts troupe for gay men. It was founded in 1994 by the current Artistic Director Kevin Platte, and has in the last 16 years greatly evolved into a national and international sensation. Though the DC Cowboys website, dccowboys.org, contains a plethora of pertinent information and some fun facts about the dancers, Platte was kind enough to chat with QSaltLake about the conception of the Cowboys and his great pride for what the company has accomplished over the years, as well as its future endeavors.
“We started from very humble roots,” Platte said of the Cowboys’ first performance, which was meant only to be a “one-time shot.” But after their performance during the DC Gay Rodeo weekend, six of the 12 original dancers wanted to “continue the journey.” Since that time, when they once grabbled with their identity — who they wanted to be, what they stood for — the troupe has grown in number to 20 dancers, ranging in age from the 20s to 40s, and it has become an important and positive patron for HIV/AIDS organizations, providing no-cost entertainment for benefit events and foraging donations through the sales of the troupe’s annual calendar and DVDs. “At first we just took every opportunity to perform,” said Platte. “It was just for us … it was selfish in the beginning but then it became selfless.”
That philosophy seems to carry-over to today. Robert Neff, a sophomore Cowboy, said, “My favorite part about being a DC Cowboy is being able to take on a hobby that not only promotes physical fitness, travel and socializing, but also allows you to support LGBT awareness and give back to the community. It’s really a win-win.” And nine-year veteran Chad Townsend, nicknamed Chandy (according to the website), said, “Looking at my life as an amateur musical theater performer, I never imagined that someday I’d be a gay dancing cowboy.” “But it’s been amazing, he continued, “to perform at [events like] Wrigley Field for the closing ceremonies of the Gay Games and on a gay RSVP cruise through the Caribbean.”
Not only do the DC Cowboys perform at charity events, benefits, Pride festivals and even wedding receptions, the group has performed on live television as a contestant on the third season of America’s Got Talent. The Cowboys may not have won, but their talent and professionalism has been key to their success. The troupe holds auditions once a year, and they look for showmanship, skill and overall appearance. Those auditioning are taught small sections or dance combinations from existing choreography and are then asked to perform them in small groups. While not a prerequisite, many of the DC Cowboys have previous performance, dance training, and/or musical theater experience. Platte said they usually get all sorts of talent of varying ages and skills, and sometimes it can be frustrating. “Sometimes we get these amazingly gorgeous men that show up and you think ‘I hope they can dance!’ and then they just can’t,” said Platte. When asked about having any heterosexual dancers, Platte admitted that none have ever auditioned. “I think we all would love a straight man and I think we would all fall in love with him,” he joked.
Though the company is volunteer-based, the members are required to be responsible, able to attend rehearsals and willing to make a commitment of more than one year to the organization, according to the website. They usually rehearse for two hours once a week, or twice a week when a major performance is imminent. “The life of a DC Cowboy can get chaotic,” admitted Neff. “Between work, family, friends, relationships, dance rehearsals and performances, it seems like a lot to juggle. [But] I’m very fortunate to have a job that is open to creative outlets as well as to have supportive friends and family who try and make it to performances when they can.”
Townsend added: “While we techinically only rehearse one night a week, there is so much more that goes into running this organization. Most of the responsibility falls on Kevin, but I act as a sounding board and a leader; and we have our very talented stage manager, Barbara Kurjeza, who we couldn’t live without; plus our choreographers, dance captains, costume committee and social media gurus. It really is a whole team of volunteers that makes this organization what it is.”
Utah Pride weekend will be the DC Cowboys first visit to Utah, but they are not unfamiliar with the Mormon culture. “We have performed at two of the Affirmation National Conferences that were held in DC,” said Platte. “They are a great group of people, it was a lot of fun.” Utah festival-goers will get a chance to see the DC Cowboys up to four times during the weekend; however, they will not be performing full-variety shows which include singing and dancing. Platte said they only perform dance routines at smaller events and venues like Utah Pride, but also added that it will be a great show. “Think Brokeback Meets Broadway,” Platte said. The Cowboys will perform at Püre Club on Friday, June 4, time TBA, then at the festival on Saturday, June 5, at 7 p.m., then later at Studio 27, time TBA, and finally at the festival on Sunday, June 6, at 1:30 p.m.
For the future, Platte hopes and is currently working on the idea of a reality series about the DC Cowboys. “[W]e’re talking with production companies about the possiblity for a reality show. What could have more drama than 28 gay men together on a show,” Platte joked, adding that he doesn’t want it to be a “Girls Gone Wild” kind of thing. He wants it to be fun but also socially constructive.