When Jackie Fetzer chose to study her doctorate in literature at Temple, she didn’t realize she’d be spending more time in dance classes than in lecture halls.
New to the city and wanting to meet new people, Fetzer, who currently teaches English 802, signed up for a once-a-week ballet class with no experience. A year later, the Philadelphia transplant now attends a different dance class seven nights a week.
“I’m not even a great dancer,” Fetzer said. “But at least I’m enthusiastic.”
That enthusiasm is why Fetzer’s ballet instructor, Loren McFalls, asked her to join femme. collective, a woman-centric organization aiming to share and develop local artists’ work.
The group was founded with ideals of the early-1990s musical Riot grrrl feminist movement in mind and welcomes anyone who loves to perform and make art, full or part-time.
“I realized this movement was a part of the music scene,” McFalls said. “And I wondered, ‘Why don’t we have something like that? And also why don’t all the artists have something like that?”
The collective wasn’t intended to be primarily female, but McFalls said after she talked to some of her artist friends about forming a group for people who aren’t full-time or professional dancers, singers and artists, the goal of female empowerment was an obvious one—and one the city is currently lacking.
The group is looking forward to presenting its first collaborative event Saturday, a vocal showcase called Fierce Grrrls at Bourbon and Branch at 705 N. 2nd St. Next month, the collective will perform “cherchez la femme,” a dance performance that features elements of poetry and visual art at the Performance Garage.
Since November, the collective has brainstormed and practiced the dance performances for “cherchez la femme” every Monday night at 954 Dance Movement Collective on 8th Street near Girard Avenue.
These practices are usually laid-back and “bohemian,” McFalls said. The show will let each performer explore their own story, rather than following a plot line, but all feature “a sprinkling of girl power.”
There are several professional dance companies in Philadelphia, like BalletX, McFalls said. Few, though, cater to those who haven’t been performing since childhood.
She added that many of the performers, herself included, work full-time jobs and dance during their free time to relieve stress and show another side of themselves.
The collective is also working on funding the shows through an Indiegogo campaign and ticket sales, so performers are compensated, something that rarely happens for non-professional performers, McFalls said. As of Monday afternoon, the campaign has raised nearly $800 of its $4000 goal.
Fetzer said the theme of the shows—empowering women performers and artists—was not only a good literal and literary theme, but it’s also one Philadelphia needs brushing up on.
“It’s one thing to read and write about it,” she said. “There’s a lot of people like me, would-be artists—especially female artists, who have a harder time breaking in.”
Along with providing entertainment and exposure for artists, the members of the collective want to partner with nonprofit organizations to help educate audience members about Philadelphia and women’s issues.
The upcoming show tackles topics like loneliness, humor and growth—both personal and physical. The largest group number and finale of the show, Unladylike, is a performance about women’s role in society.
Because of the range in topics, McFalls hopes the audience walks away with the simple realization that “these women came together to make something awesome.”
She hopes the collective will grow after these performances, possibly collaborating with other companies and participating in festivals like FringeArts. McFalls added that she would also consider buying a permanent space to give the group some roots.
“Hopefully we can pull off small showcases each month,” McFalls said. “Eventually we’ll have an army behind us.”
Fetzer said the goals of the collective and what she hopes it will do mirrors the thinking of one of her literary favorites, Virgina Woolf.
“Look what we can produce,” Fetzer riffed, “when we have the means and space to do so.”
Photo Credit: Evan Easterling