Dancing Out

Matt Shaffer on lisping and why “part of being stereotyped is embracing the stereotype”

This post is part of a series of Queerty conversations with models, trainers, dancers, and, well, people who inspire us to stay in shape–0r just sit on the couch ogling them instead.

NameMatthew Shaffer, 41

City: Los Angeles. I’ve had a fun little gypsy life. I was born in a small town in Colorado, but grew up in Southern California, just outside of Torrance.

Occupation: Performer, dancer, choreographer and author of Dancing Out of the Closet, a memoir of coming out on the wicked stage. I am also an educator at Studio School, a university in downtown Los Angeles Center Stages. It’s the first of its kind in our country, where students earn a BFA while partaking in professionally performing and auditioning while in school.

Favorite Gym:  I gave up gyms about four years ago and moved into a yoga studio. I was always punishing myself for what I wasn’t, rather than rewarding myself for what I am. I actually go to Core Power, which is sort of like the Starbucks of yoga. It’s great for when I’m on the road. You always get a consistent practice.

Related: Stage star and trainer Sam Leicht, on how sports can build a bridge to queer acceptance

Favorite Work Out Song: Anything Annie Lennox, especially the Eurythmics. Pink, if I’m feeling feisty. Queen, recently, because how could you not revisit such a beautiful group.

Recommended Work-Out Foods: I try eat more vegetables than anything else. I’m not afraid of carbs, so I’ll do a carbohydrate. I do high protein from beans and outside sources, but low meat intake. I try to stay away from meat on weekends and practice being vegetarian on weekdays. I’ve found that in do that, instead of giving myself a cheat day it helps me find a consistent balance. I also gave up soda 11 years ago, and avoid dairy since that keeps weight on.

Best Workout Outfit: I like Lulu Lemon. I think their shorts are very well made for men, and last a long time. They have a built-in liner, and feel really tight and kind of remind me of biker shorts or jazz pants. On top, I go to Target and I buy tank tops.

How do you balance staying in shape and having fun? For me, the biggest battle in my life is that I’m someone who believes in living in the moment, and I want to make sure I enjoy everything. For most of my 20s, I was in such a demanding field and had to look really good all the time, so I was constantly depriving myself. Now, I allow myself to indulge, but with that comes with the discipline of going to the yoga studio. If I have a day where I’ve indulged too much, I might take an extra yoga class or pop into a spin class. That makes me feel good.

What about as a performer? Every day I keep a journal. I think that is especially important for anyone, but especially an artist because we are so emotional and can access that emotion very quickly, whether its good or bad. I read self-help books in perpetual cycles like [works by] Eckhart Tolle. If I’m on my own, I write. It helps me stay mentally prepared. That’s how both of my books were born: the need to work through pain.

The book emphasizes your history of performance, coming out and how those correspond to highs and lows in your personal life. How did dance as a creative outlet prepare you for coming out? That was my favorite part of writing the book. When I set out to write it, that was the question I kept asking myself. Am I performer because I knew when I was three that I was gay and needed a way to channel it? Or was the fact that I liked to dance and act and perform just a catalyst to say “Deal with this thing?” I’m not sure. I find it interesting that so many performing artists are gay. I don’t want to stereotype, but it is interesting that so many writers, directors, costume designers, choreographers are LGBTQ. I also don’t know if I ever could have come out without having the loving people that I was surrounded by in my dance company or on a set, because when you’re on a break and you hear someone else’s story, you think that’s my story. It gives you a safe haven to talk about it out loud.

At times, you seem to lean into gay stereotypes in your book. For example, you ask the reader to think of you speaking with a gay lisp for emphasis, even though you don’t have one. Do you think embracing a stereotype can empower you? I do. Look, we’re going to be stereotyped whether we like it or not. That’s not just actors or gay people, it’s everyone. I love that the generation beneath me is trying to break stereotypes, but at the end of the day, there have been tropes we’ve fit into. For me, the lisp…I did some research and that was one of the identifying ways it was safe for men in the 50s to find one another and be with each other. So yeah, part of being stereotyped is embracing the stereotype. As a performer, I learned to accept that because you get typecast. If I had to embrace it for my career, why can’t I embrace it for my life?

How does dance prepare you for everyday life? I tell people if you’re a dancer you can do anything. Dance is both a sport and an art. In order to fully execute the idea behind a story, you have to be physically at the top of your game. You’re versatile. And part of working in a studio is learning how to problem solve and when something doesn’t work, finding a way out of it. I think that dance activates the mind and the body and the soul.

Tip for staying in shape: Love yourself and drink plenty of water. Stay active.

What do you keep on your nightstand? I keep a book I’m reading, my journal, my phone and a bottle of water with a glass. Right now I’m reading a book called Paris by Edward Rutherford.