At 37 years old and almost 350 pounds I decided to audition for a dance troupe in L.A. called R.A.I.D. (Random Acts of Irreverent Dance). I am now going into my third year with R.A.I.D. and it is my greatest pleasure to talk about the troupe that literally changed the course of my career and my life. R.A.I.D., the brainchild of the visionary choreographer Ramie Becker, is a radically inclusive, egalitarian dance troupe. Founded in 2004 with the simple idea that everyone has the right to dance, R.A.I.D. has been consistently booking gigs and playing to sold-out crowds from San Bernardino to San Francisco. As a dancer with R.A.I.D., I have opened for Peaches with Shunda K at the Music Box theater in L.A., performed for over 100,000 people at the Electric Daisy Carnival, and danced regularly at our home base, Bootie L.A. at the Echoplex in Los Angeles.
R.A.I.D. features dancers of all shapes, sizes, ages, and dance levels. From professional world-class dancers to untrained brave dancers, we all partake in the festivities equally. We are known for our creative and colorful costumes and props, but especially for dancing in our signature gold spandex unitards. But I think above everything else, it is R.A.I.D.’s joy that the audience most responds to.
To say that dancing with R.A.I.D. has had a profound effect on my life is an understatement! There really are no words to describe my journey to accepting – and hell, I’ll say it – loving my body. As a woman deemed morbidly obese by the medical community, I never thought I could have seen the day where I would be go-go dancer. In fact, I never dared to even go to clubs in my college years. It’s easy to feel like the ugly duckling at most nightclubs in L.A. But Bootie L.A. and R.A.I.D. provide the most accepting and FUN place imaginable. When you step into our world you walk into a place where everyone is equal and it is okay to be yourself. At Bootie L.A. the crowd is the most magnificently diversified I have ever seen. People of all ages, sizes, colors, genders, and sexualities come out to have a great time and to celebrate their bodies through music and dance. Now, as I dance my way into my forties I feel like the duckling who has finally found her swans.
I could sing R.A.I.D.’s praises forever but since we are a troupe I would like you to get to know some of the many wonderful dancers and contributors, starting with the originator of R.A.I.D.:
Ramie Becker – choreographer & founder of R.A.I.D.: I wanted R.A.I.D. to be more focused on the performance aspect than flash mobs. I spoke to DJ Paul V about trying it out at Bootie L.A. and the club really responded to it. By the way, Lady Gaga made an appearance there the night R.A.I.D. debuted.
I’ve definitely become far more comfortable with my body since creating R.A.I.D. It’s a comfortability that transcends my actual weight in a weird way. I’ve been fluctuating within a 30-pound range, but R.A.I.D. reminds me that I have the RIGHT to dance no matter what I weigh. I have the RIGHT to be sexy, silly, bizarre, playful – anything I want to be, no matter what size clothing I wear. For me, life is too short – I am not going to give up an opportunity to experience my bliss (which is dancing) because my body isn’t ‘perfect.’
R.A.I.D. challenges people to not just own their sexuality ‘at any size,’ but to also challenge themselves to move beyond the shackles of having to be ‘sexy’ all the time. I don’t look or feel sexy all the time – nobody does! Why can’t I be silly or strange? So, I’m challenging myself to get beyond trying to replicate the standard modes of bodily display and performance – i.e. the ‘sexy dancing girl.’ That’s so boring to me. There’s absolutely nothing subversive or interesting about it. The gold suits are one way to get into creative bodily expression, to push through those tropes. It’s like mask-play in theater, but these are full-body masks … that are really unmasking as well.
Jennifer Jonassen: Why do you think R.A.I.D. is so empowering?
Ramie Becker: People in club culture people get really strangled by this idea that they need to be sexy. There is a very narrow band of what is considered acceptable. So I think we are unexpected. We defy standard body types and ages. People are accustomed to seeing one type of go-go dancer and costuming. They are not expecting to see our dancers. We are challenging who gets to dance on stage and who gets to perform in a nightclub. Moving past that very limited scope of what is considered sexy at a night club. At the same time it is not a protest. When we go-go we bring silliness.
Jennifer Jonassen: Why do you think silliness is so empowering?
Ramie Becker: Silliness is empowering because it takes a lot of balls to be silly as opposed to sexy. It’s a whole new level. It’s almost a satire of what sexiness is in our culture. The crowds understand it and respond to it enthusiastically.
Jennifer Jonassen: I think of R.A.I.D. sometimes as a contemporary burlesque troupe.
Ramie Becker: Yes it definitely has elements of modern dance and burlesque. Burning Man was a definite influence.
Jennifer Jonassen: I agree! Why is irreverency so important to R.A.I.D.?
Ramie Becker: I feel like we need an irreverency and not take it so seriously. As opposed to being exclusionary. It’s kind of like karaoke. Dancing with R.A.I.D you can play around with your body. I feel there needs to be more of a playing field for dance. It needs to be more inclusive. As a choreographer people ask me if there are limitations using many untrained dancers. But professional dancers have limits as well too. They might not be able to play characters or transcend their training. I like making something that is really unique.
Jennifer Jonassen: What do you look for in dancers?
Ramie Becker: I look for stage presence. If they are excited about the idea of wearing a gold bodysuit and dancing on stage – if that makes them excited, then they are in.
Jennifer Jonassen: Other clubs turn away potential patrons for not looking a certain way.
Ramie Becker: Clubs are afraid they are going to calm their cool factor but R.A.I.D. has actually boosted club attendance.
Jennifer Jonassen: Bootie L.A. is unique in that it invites everyone. I feel like R.A.I.D. fosters that. I often have people contact me and tell me they are dancing now because of watching us perform with R.A.I.D.
Ramie Becker: That is what R.A.I.D. is about!
Jennifer Jonassen: What is next for R.A.I.D?
Ramie Becker: R.A.I.D. has been expanding organically for 2 1/2 years now, and the next level is for us to get our own rehearsal space, a home for R.A.I.D., where we can store costumes, props, and rehearse. I’d love to bring in teachers so we can have workshops and classes. We keep attracting people to the project, people are contacting us for gigs constantly – so it’s time to have our own space … and maybe a bus! Can you imagine? A solid gold tour bus, the R.A.I.D. Brigade!
I asked members of R.A.I.D to describe how they felt wearing the gold suit and how R.AI.D. has impacted them:
MG: Dancing in the gold suit feels glorious, glamorous, and exuberant. I feel like I glow when I’m dancing! I feel sexy and I feel loved and appreciated by the audience. My dream came true [with R.A.I.D.] at age 62. I always wanted to dance with a theatrical troupe onstage but in my 20s when I was at the height of my talent I was not given these opportunities.
Male Dancer: I’ve only had two performances with R.A.I.D. so far and my body image hasn’t changed per se. What has changed is my self-confidence level. Up on stage I can do anything I want. No reservations. It’s so freeing.
Katie: In the suit, I feel like a communist dance pirate from the future. I am a founding member of R.A.I.D. We are all dancers no matter what size we are. I am not as embarrassed about my skinny shoulders or pokey hip bones. Suze Q [another R.A.I.D. dancer] and I have been R.A.I.D.ing for 1 1/2 years and it has been an honor to bring my professional dance and choreography skills to the table, helping Ramie, our founder. I have danced with Madonna, Pink, Rihanna, and more, but the enjoyment I get out of RAID is second to none.
Dahni: How do I feel in the spandex suit? Sextatic! I’ve been with R.A.I.D. for almost a year now. Growing up I used to have major body image issues, and over the years I’ve slowly grown to love myself. Joining R.A.I.D. was the final rite of passage for me. Looking back on the past year, I feel like I’ve grown and become much more confident in myself, I no longer care what others might think or have any body insecurities that burden my life and it feels great! Natural.
Rachel: I feel super sexy in the gold suit. I have been dancing with R.A.I.D. for a year and I feel much more comfortable in my own body and I have become much more ballsy since joining. Frankly I just don’t give a damn anymore what anyone thinks of me. I get to live my dream of being a dancer and to inspire people to be more confident and crazy.
Amy: Wearing the suit is like being zipped into an alternate reality. Yes it’s transformative to see oneself in the suit, inner gold made to shine on the outside. I see my body in backstage mirrors and I can only feel ‘yes this is my body’ and that matter-of-factness does cross over into daily life. There’s no need to fear what you know and the suit exposes all.
Dan: In the suit I feel strangely liberated. I’ve been with R.A.I.D. on and off for about a year now. Donning the suit can be a little tough at first. Those suckers are skin tight. The thing is though, once your fellow R.A.I.D.ers are also in the suit, it gives you a boost of confidence you didn’t realize you had. As a team, we can do anything, and look hella crazy/sexy doing it!
Clint Tauscher: In the suit I feel desirable and invincible! It demands that attention be paid; I cannot help but feel that I deserve to be the center of attention.
Nigel Ficke: I love R.A.I.D., because they don’t judge you. Most importantly, they like to have fun, which, I’ll let you in on a little secret, IS THE WHOLE POINT!