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Ovations Global Network uses dance culture to bring LGBTQ+ community together in Palm Beach County

posed photo of Christopher Caldwell in a dance studio
Courtesy of Christopher Scott Caldwell
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Christopher Scott Caldwell is founder of the nonprofit Ovations Global Network, which runs a LGBTQIA+ dance outreach program at Compass Community Center in Lake Worth Beach.

Young queer students throughout Palm Beach County are using the dance floor to shake off pandemic stress.

Ovations Global Network, a nonprofit dance company, partnered with the Compass Community Center in Lake Worth Beach to offer a dance-based community outreach program for the LGBTQ+ community.

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The founder and instructor running the the program, Christopher Scott Caldwell, says the program highlights the importance of gay urban dance culture in Palm Beach County.

Caldwell teaches underground dance styles like voguing, punking (or waacking), and house dancing to a small cadre of up to 15 dancers. The street dance styles date back to the '60s and '70s.

He says the monthly and weekly programs are bringing the LGBTQ+ community together especially as the dance floor has always been a safe, liberated space for queer folks looking to either express themselves or train professionally.

“Anyone who begins a journey into urban dance culture, it’s important to remember that these were liberation dances,” said Caldwell. “These were dances that were done for people to just be in their own skin. And to be free at a time where it was illegal to do so.”

Up until 2003, state laws criminalized people in the LGBTQ+ community, prohibiting homosexual activity and same-sex marriage. The dance floor was their safe haven. And it was also a place for career networking.

“The club, the DJ, the night scene. The lights. Those were liberation spaces where folks who were otherwise often starkly excluded. And I don't mean just as people, socioeconomically, educationally — we're talking about black, brown, yellow, trans individuals who are historically in oppressive systems, who are historically left behind,” said Caldwell. “Well, they were meeting on that dance floor and they were getting their life. They were finding community. They were finding unity. They were able to express their creativity in a raw form.”

Christopher Scott Caldwell class.png
Christopher Scott Caldwell
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A training video of Christopher Scott Caldwell teaching a few dancers at the Compass Community Center in Lake Worth Beach.

In 2015, a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

The Compass Community Center in Lake Worth Beach has served the LGBTQ+ community for more than 30 years. Three years ago, the center introduced the dance program with Ovations Global Network.

The classes are taught monthly on pay-what-you-can scale. Caldwell said that plan exists to help younger folks who "are not in a socioeconomic position where they're able to extend their extra resources, the little bit of extra cash to something like going to take a dance class.”

Instruction happens at the center because it also provides timely access to other resources, like HIV testing.

“You can literally walk out off the dance floor and get whatever testing you need. You can sign up for a therapy session. If you want to sign up for financial services,” said Caldwell. “All of that is under the one house. And you can go and do that and get right back on the dance floor if you’d like.”

Caldwell says he’s teaching in-person and online courses to accommodate dancers who prefer a hybrid setting, especially as COVID-19 cases continue to spike due to the omicron variant.

“In terms of safety, our company has spent a lot of time going as far as hiring COVID-19 compliance officers officers for our events in addition to health and safety plans,” said Caldwell, who also runs What The Punk Fest, an international three-day dance festival.

Caldwell says the monthly dance classes will return to the Compass Community Center on Jan. 22.

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.