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Travis Prokop Delves into Queer Themes at Barnstorm Dance Festival

Choreographer discusses his piece "Square Peg, Round Hole."

Travis Prokup in rehearsal.

When Dance Source Houston’s Barnstorm Dance Fest opens the last week of May, one of the choreographers featured will be Travis Prokop. Houston dance audiences may recognize him as a dancer with NobleMotion, Hope Stone, and other companies, but his choreography has mostly appeared in other festival settings or else in previous cities where he’s taught, most recently Lamar University in Beaumont. He recently became an assistant professor of dance at the University of Houston and intends to step back from performing and into choreographing more.

 Prokop traces his life in dance back to his childhood in Clovis, New Mexico. He spent a lot of time with his grandmother, who watched a lot of musicals. This sparked Prokop’s interest in movement and he was put into a dance class “and it’s been dance ever since.” He earned his Bachelor’s degree at West Texas A&M University in Canyon and his Master’s at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville.

OutSmart: Tell us a bit about the piece you’re showing at Barnstorm.

Prokop: It’s a solo called “Square Peg, Round Hole.” Essentially, it’s a dance referencing how people are looking for a place that they can fit in, more specifically queer people. Originally, this is a number I choreographed at one of my previous jobs, with a college student, and wanted to explore the choreography with a little bit more mature dancer, so I’ll be utilizing my boyfriend, Dwain Travis, courtesy of Houston Contemporary Dance. It runs the audience through some queer topics such as traditional versus nontraditional relationships, referencing how queer people have to find their place and exit the closet. Then I researched a lot of coping mechanisms and used that research to implement some choreographic choices—what the character would do, how the character would react to feeling boxed in, accepting, and of course, thriving afterwards.

Talk about working with your boyfriend in this process.

Dancers that you want to work with, that you appreciate their movement quality, are few and far between, so luckily I got the chance to work with my boyfriend. It’s been interesting in having to find the equilibrium between being boyfriends but we’re also here to get a job done and that level of professionalism. In a way, it enhances the work because there are certain things I don’t have to tell him, that he’s also experienced as a queer artist. It’s also done wonders in how we communicate with each other in our personal relationship. I think both of us are more open to communication, feel more comfortable sharing our vulnerabilities in every aspect of our relationship, from physical to emotional.

Queer people seem to gravitate toward dance.

I would say that queer people inside of dance is not unusual but I would say that subject matter or themes that accurately portray queer life in a specific way are harder to come by. I think the arts are very welcoming to queer life but I think, especially living in Texas, what we’re seeing sometimes is an abstract representation of queer life. I do feel it would be nice to give a lens, especially to our allies—and people who might not be allies—but give them a lens into our lives. I think it was Harvey Milk who said, “how can they change their minds about us if they don’t know who we are?” That’s kind of been my mission statement.

What are some of your thoughts about the Barnstorm Dance Fest?

I enjoy Barnstorm. It’s a chance for a multi-varied level of artists to show work in a professional theater. Barnstorm and the MATCH is an outlet where up-and-coming or emerging choreographers can show their work next to people like Social Movement or Houston Contemporary or NobleNotion, some really top-tier names in the Houston community. It gives a chance for everybody to be seen.

Travis Prokop teaching at Bailando International Dance Festival. (Photo by Schuster Studios)

How would you introduce yourself to the OutSmart audience?

Introducing myself . . . I always say my brand is rainbow irreverence. I feel like it’s my duty to continue a legacy of queer artists in Houston. I understand our forefathers—I call them forefathers like they’re old—but like my mentor Jonathan Charles Smith, who has unfortunately passed away, but also giving homage and power to Jhon Stronks and Adam Castañeda and Rivkah French, all the queer artists who are trying to make the community strong. I just want to be a part of that. I’m here and ready to show queer art. I’m aiming to do a show in the spring of 2025, researching the hanky code and other secret forms of communication between queer people back in the day and equating that to new forms of communication like social media and dating apps. That’s where I’m really diving into now. We used to say “love is love” and I’m starting to think that’s not the case. It’s okay that our love is different. I want to bring that to the surface so that people can experience that and not be so taken aback by it. I think that starts with seeing not only a duet with two men that showcases the power of two men together, but showcases the romance and intimacy that two men can have. Do that with women, with trans dancers, with nonbinary—the community is vast! I want audiences to see those stories and allow the audience to know that these are queer characters and not just queer dancers who are dancing roles.

You brought up your mentor (the late Sam Houston State University dance professor) Jonathan Charles Smith. Do you see yourself mentoring young artists at UH?

I do. Since I’ve been here, we’ve had a couple more of our students feel comfortable coming out and filling out in their own skin. One student who is super near and dear to my heart, Jayden Thomas, who is just coming into her own confidence and exploring what her place inside our community is, that is, being a dancer and a queer person. That’s what Jonathan taught me and if I can pass that on, I’m happy to do so. I don’t want to tell people how to live their lives but I want to be a good example of feeling safe and comfortable in your skin and being okay with being yourself. I’m sorry, that sounds so After School Special, but I guess it’s still true.

What: Travis Prokop’s “Square Peg, Round Hole,” part of Program A of Barnstorm Dance Fest
When: May 28–June 1
Where: Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston (MATCH) 3400 Main St,




Neil Ellis Orts

Neil Ellis Orts is a writer living in Houston. His creative writing has appeared in several small press journals and anthologies and his novella, Cary and John is available wherever you order books. He is a frequent contributor to OutSmart.
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