Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago Alum Dee Alaba: ‘The celebration of authentic self is Pride’

Dee Alaba (Photo: Fernando Rodriguez)

Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago alum Dee Alaba ’17, a graduate of the Dance Center’s BFA Program in Dance, is profiled in the Chicago Reader‘s 2021 Pride Issue, published June 9, 2021. In an article headlined “Dee Alaba celebrates her authentic self: Dancer seeks collaborators who respect identity,” Alaba reflects on her experiences as a transfemme dancer in Chicago.

Dee Alaba

“The celebration of authentic self is Pride itself,” Alaba says in the article. “You owning your identity, your celebration of yourself. We’re an evolving community. I’m truly pleased to see a lot of non-gender binary and trans dancers coming out now.”

Carrie Hanson

Erin Kilmurray

Born in Davao in the Philippines and raised in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines, Alaba began dancing at the age of four. She currently performs with The Seldoms, a Chicago-based ensemble founded and led by Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago faculty member Carrie Hanson, and with Columbia College alum Erin Kilmurray ’08, a graduate of the Dance Center’s BA Program in Dance. Alaba has appeared in Kilmurray’s summertime performance series The Fly Honey Show.

Dwigth Alaba

“Especially working with Erin Kilmurray, I get to express my authentic movement and my identity,” Alaba says. Working with Erin really kickstarted my dance career. She was like, ‘Take the jobs that will respect you. Do the jobs that will celebrate you.’ That was when my whole perspective changed. I don’t have to audition for dance companies because they’re looking for male or female dancers; I can create work, I can collaborate, I can work with people who are looking for artists and not just male or female bodies. It’s an ownership of my authenticity.”

“When I started college, I had already transitioned, but I didn’t identify as trans,” Alaba recalls in the Reader interview. “As a freshman, I was like, ‘I’m a gay man with long hair who wears women’s clothing.’ I thought ‘trans’ meant you had transitioned fully—you’re on hormones, you got your boobs done, you’ve done gender confirmation surgery. I didn’t know you could be transfemme, transmasc, transsexual, transgender. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s where I am. I’m transfeminine. I want to do women’s roles, because that’s who I am. I’m a woman.’ Back then, I was just Dwigth—that was my name. People would be like, ‘What are you?’ I would be like, ‘I’m Dwigth. I’m me. I’m feminine, but as long as you respect me for who I am, I don’t care if you use he; I don’t care if you use she.’ I did not care about pronouns until Columbia professors started asking, ‘What’s your preferred pronoun?’ my junior year. One of the things I realized was that I was doing it for people’s comfort. People would be like, ‘I don’t want to offend you if I call you ” he.” ‘  I realized, No, I need to own this. I need to fully accept that this is my identity. That’s when it started. I announced on Facebook, ‘I go by she/her now, I go by Dee now.’ ”

To read the full interview with Dee Alaba, click here.