Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Risah Salazar is talking with Michael Dane, author of HomoAmerican: The Secret Society.
FQ: Your life hasn't been as easy one, especially when you were growing up. How did those challenges help you to become who you are today?
DANE: Extreme difficulties and overcoming them are fundamental to the growth of any artist. The challenges I faced made me self-reliant and gave me a unique perspective on the world around me. Having never belonged to “this world” per se, I have had the opportunity to view life and even myself as an observer and a participant.
The dedication page of my book expresses it best, “There is in this country a Secret Society whose members are determined by genetic distinction and the only entrance requirement is invisibility. It is the search for this elusive birthright that is the heart of this book, that and the complex conspiracy of silence that keeps us hidden. I was given a tremendous gift when I was born, an invisible legacy and a mirror with no reflection, a kind of isolation and at the same time kinship with possibly the last great Secret Society and a challenge...to become visible. I was given the opportunity to create the man I am out of my own imagination...and a life...out of my dreams.”
FQ: What is your fondest childhood memory?
DANE: One of my earliest memories is of a picnic in the back yard when I was too young to go to school and not feeling very special. My mother baked a three-layer cake and made each layer a different color. She made some sandwiches and took me to the very back of the yard and we had our own picnic on a blanket. My grandfather watched us from his window above and told her later, “It was just blame foolishness,” ...but it wasn’t.
She had a knack for fixing hurt parts inside with little more than a glance and could make you feel secure when you really had nothing at all. She could lay her hand on mine and dissolve my confusion. Children’s hearts are delicate things, fragile and easily broken, but in the right hands they are also mended. I was still safe to hold out my hand and certain that one person would take it and protect me.
She was my champion and savior and later I was hers when she came to live with us in New York in 1980. Neither would have survived our brutal pasts, or fragmented lives without the other. I miss her, more and more, each day. No one will ever believe in me, unconditionally, again. No one else, will ever understand that the story of our lives, is simply the truth.
FQ: How is your relationship with your family now?
DANE: My mother, father and eldest brother are gone now, but I have two brothers and a sister still with me and we are as close as possible considering that they are on the west coast and I have lived in NYC.
They have always been close and supportive even from far away when lived in Paris, Belgium, South Africa and Teheran.
FQ: Do you have any regrets? If there’s one thing you could change in your past, what would it be?
DANE: To live more in the present. I have always had trouble living the “present” of my life, always in half-anticipating and half-dreading the moments that I might have savored. Those days are lost to me now...and will always be. That bargain is made. The sun is too bright and the city too loud. Darkness has always been a better friend.
What twist of fortune brought me here, I can’t say. That said, there is a forward momentum to my life...a compulsion that I would like to stop, on occasion, and examine in the cold light of day.
FQ: What do you think was the biggest turning point in your life?
DANE: Dance, in particular ballet! From my world of chaos and confusion what better place to lose myself and possibly find myself, than in the well-ordered world of dance, in choreographed days and nights in pink and amber spots.
As I wrote in my journal years ago, “I’m not sure whether I am running to or away from something, perhaps both, but I was definitely running. Ballet is my new love, religion, obsession, disease and passion …into which I pour all of my daily life and dreams.”
After a lifetime of blocked memories and isolation, ballet offered me something real; it gave me a magical structure, a Yellow Brick Road and a Great White Whale, a path to follow and something to conquer and carried me around the world.
FQ: What is the best thing in your life today?
DANE: My husband Tim who saved my life 33 years ago. Our many travels and our beautiful apartment, like an Ivory tower, a rich jewel box of soft light and art, books, and an unparallel view overlooking New York City, the city of the dreams of my youth.
The very last line of my book expresses it best: “Never wake and leave my world...I could not dream alone.”
FQ: What happened to your childhood toy, Frogathy?
DANE: When I was still a child in San Francisco, I suspect that my grandfather threw him away. I was bereaved...I took a piece of white cloth and some of my mother’s embroidery thread and, in simple stitches, sketched his colors and form. Years later, here in New York, I went down to 14th Street to the fabric stores and bought lush velvet for his mouth and fine fabric and fur for his body and beautiful buttons and I remade him. He is still with me.
FQ: What was your favorite role/dance/performance during your ballet career?
DANE: In Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo I had the opportunity to use all that I had learned, not only of the technical aspects of my art but also the traditions, as taught to me from my Russian Ballet Teachers, Dimitri and Francesca Romanoff. Their tales of the grand days of ballet, of hidden flasks in stockings and spectacular parties and arriving on trains to throngs of reporters, were woven into the fabric of my being.
With Ballet Trockadero, I was able to live out the life of true stars of the ballet, as both a male dancer called Prince Mishkin, and even more in the embodiment of a great ballerina, Dame Peggy, an alter ego, who, through me, danced the great classics. She first took me to South Africa and then around the world and finally to a star-studded New Year’s Eve gala performance at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. She was more than I ever was, that is, the best of my ability as well as that spark that is often called “star quality.” She is very real. She is magnificent and lives within me still.
FQ: You have been to a number of places around the world. Is there a place that holds a special spot in your heart?
DANE: Paris, of course! I first travelled there escaping the fall of the Shah’s regime, over the Turkish mountains, across the expanse of the desert, to the glittering minarets of Istanbul, then five days though Eastern Europe, from those cold grey countries into the blossoming color of the West and finally to the Gare du Nord in Paris, where I nearly died of pneumonia in the borrowed cold water flat of a male prostitute.
Paris, the city where I returned resurrected to write, record and perform my dangerous music for Aquarius Records. I was the first gay man to record and perform the music of the themes of my life for a major record company.
Paris, where for five years I lived out the second of the four incarnations of my life in concert, cabaret and on television and was honored by command performances at a Duke’s wedding on the Seine, a concert at Le Pavillon Dauphine, and a banquet for the release of my first album at Baron Lambert’s apartment.
Paris, the city we constantly visit and where we rent the same tiny apartment in the 7eme Arrondissement with the Eiffel Tower, just outside, glittering for us alone.