Family Portraits: George Alley

His Web site states, in part, “As a choreographer, George Alley has no reverence for the art of dance.

All movement is ‘creative’ movement; the artistic endeavor is in providing the correct framing. Alley’s motivation is in the action of deconstruction, a disregarding of all standards of beauty and ugliness. He is a presenter of the whole, the fragmented, the dismantled and the reassembled. Lies and miscommunications are valuable. Lies create mystery, and mystery in turn creates glamour.” Alley believes the mask is more interesting than the face. PGN endeavored to uncover the mask and the man, and discovered a fun fellow with a contagious laugh and a deep interest in people. I had to work to turn the conversation back to him.

PGN: What’s your bio? GA: Well, I was born in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m the first child of a Lebanese blues-soul singer and a demolition-derby driver.

PGN: That’s pretty cool. What’s your mother’s name? GA: Norma Joan Joseph-Alley, and she sang in a Detroit band called “Electric Shit.” My father’s name is Howard and I have a younger sister Pamela, she’s an oil … well, she works for an oil company and she’s a food blogger. She has a great food site:

PGN: So did your musical bent come from your mother? GA: Actually from both of them. My father listened to a lot of jazz when I was growing up. I have a voice that is very similar to my mother’s, though, and we used to sing a lot together. She hung out with a lot of interesting people — Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, MC5 — and a lot of those crazy, soul-influenced punk rockers.

PGN: What does your mom look like? GA: Like me! She has dark hair and looks a little like a Lebanese Liz Taylor — Liz from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” not the Liz in a wheelchair that we see now! She also looks a lot like Laura Nyro … and Cher. [Laughs.] She’s a glamorous hybrid of Liz Taylor, Cher and Laura Nyro. PGN: And your father was a derby driver? GA: Yes, he was a demolition-derby driver, he was a champion swimmer and eventually he became the president of a large insurance company.

PGN: There’s a jump, though I guess you learn a lot about insurance smashing up cars. GA: Yeah, he was also really into Harleys, so he used to take me on rides with him. He still does.

PGN: It sounds like he was an adventurous guy. How does that manifest in you? GA: We’re all kind of rebellious. I think I’m a bit more social than my sister and my parents. I end up being passive-aggressive and the three of them are just aggressive!

PGN: What’s something rebellious that you did as a kid? GA: I had a club called the British Club and I would make up these newsletters saying that I was the president of the club — I had about five members — and that if anyone in the neighborhood wanted to start a club on their own, they had to go through us. I also crowned myself the president of the United Nations of Clubs, so if they didn’t join, I would declare war on them. Any club not a member of the United Nations was not allowed to congregate or commiserate without our permission. We spent about three years at war with various children in the neighborhood.

PGN: What’s the worst trick you played on your sister? GA: Oh, my sister and I are a team. We never fight. We might fight other people, verbally of course — I don’t want to be bothered — but never each other. We always got along. [Laughs.] We turned our anger on others!

PGN: Where did you go to school? GA: I went to school in Cleveland. I had a bad public-school experience in junior high, so I transferred to a private school called Hawken. That’s where I really got into dance and theater and met a lot of the friends that I still collaborate with to this day. After that, I went to the College of Wooster in Ohio, mainly because David Bowie’s son was attending there. I got a B.A. in theater and choreography and then went to Temple for graduate school, where I got my M.F.A. in choreography.

PGN: You were into David Bowie; what was your best Stardust outfit? GA: I caused a huge scandal once when I was at Wooster for wearing an outfit into the cafeteria. I found these leather pants that were Michael Jackson “Thriller”-esque in style, but they had been, well … completely worn out, so there were gaping holes in the back and on the sides, and around the zipper area. I had a sort of pillowcase that I wore above the waist like a mini skirt and it was topped off with a diamond-studded tank top. And I wore red lipstick around my eyes. It sounds kind of tragic, but it was weirdly more refined than you would think. But it caused such an extreme scandal — it was crazy.

PGN: It sounds like you were the original Lady Gaga. GA: She’s generation Y, I’m generation X. I like her, but I don’t understand why they’re hailing her as if she invented this stuff. There were so many others doing inventive things before her. But I appreciate that she’s different than your average pop star.

PGN: So what is it you do now? GA: I do a lot of different things. I founded a dance company in 2004 called AlleyInk Dance. For the past two years we’ve been performing at different festivals throughout the country. I was just the headliner at the POW! Action Art Festival San Francisco and, in May, I’m going to be doing a large-scale piece at Lakshmi Studio for First Friday. It’s going to be about hairstylists dying and styling as they dance. I’m also the assistant coordinator of an early-arts enrichment program. It’s a Head Start preschool program where children get to experience dance, music and art every day in addition to regular early-education classes. It’s a government-funded program, which is great because parents who normally wouldn’t be able to afford early-education programs for their kids can take advantage of it.

PGN: So what’s the funniest thing about watching the kids dance? GA: The funniest thing about kids is that they’re fully formed artists. We have a tendency to think that you develop as an artist or as a person as time goes on, but when you’re a child, your neurons are firing so rapidly and you’re learning things so quickly, and you’re connecting so many things and so many unusual things together that children are natural artists and natural dancers. We as adults are constantly beating that out of them and taking it away. What’s so beautiful about working with children is that you get to work with fully developed artists, you know, with amazing and interesting ideas about dance and people and animals. So everything they say is funny and scary and bizarre and creative. There are so many things that they do and say that make me laugh on a daily basis.

PGN: What’s the Podcast you do? GA: It’s called “I’m Going to Kill You” and I’m the co-host along with Edward Bottger. It’s rated one of the top Podcasts on Podomatic, which is the largest Podcast server in the country. It’s sometimes a sound installation; sometimes we do interviews. We’ve had people from RuPaul’s “Drag Race” on the show; we talked with Nick Burd, who is a young gay author recently picked as one of the “Out 100” for 2009. We had Chi Chi Valenti, who hosts a famous party in New York called “Night of a Thousand Stevies” where people come dressed as Stevie Nicks. We also go on the radio, we call phone sex lines, we do a lot of crazy things.

PGN: Anything else? GA: I’m putting out an album. I’ve been working with Skimmington Ride, who is a New York musician, and some people from a band here in Philly called Oiler. All of the songs are part of a conversation and each song is a conversation with the next song. I always integrate music into everything I do. I’ve composed scores for short films and dance pieces; I’ve collaborated with artists like Cenk Ergun, Drew Castellano and members of the group Man Man. [Laughs.] My first song was “Put it In,” an ode to putting pies in microwaves and kids into Esprit sweaters. I’ve also taught music and I’ve been taking voice lessons and piano lessons.

PGN: What instruments do you play? GA: Uh, voice and piano … I like to dabble in everything. It’s like David Bowie: He pretends to play every instrument, but not always very well. He calls himself, oh, what is it? I think he calls himself a “generalist.” That’s me because I’m not afraid to play any instrument. [Laughs.] Whether or not I have any actual skills, I feel I have a right to play!

PGN: I host karaoke and a lot of times I’ll sing a song I don’t know to help someone out. A week later, I’ll hear it on the radio and go, “Oh, so that’s the way it’s supposed to go!” I just consider it my own special arrangement.

GA: Yeah, sometimes those things elicit the best performances because you’re not beholden to the material. You can do something completely bizarre and new.

PGN: What was your coming-out experience? GA: I never really came out because I never remember a time when I felt that I was not gay. And before I ever even said I was gay, people always told me that I was. I had a difficult time in junior high school; it was very obvious to other people that I was gay. I was constantly being hit or thrown down stairs, having clothes ripped off me and harassed on a regular basis. Eventually, my parents had a meeting with the principal, who said that he couldn’t do anything to protect me at the school. I was lucky that my parents were able to send me to a private school, which really changed things around. After ninth grade, I was able to be more comfortable with who I was. I never really talked about being gay, but the more I got into David Bowie from the Ziggy Stardust era or wanted to be like Pete Burns from Dead or Alive and Boy George, and realized that they were gay, the more I figured I was gay too. Mainly the way I knew I was gay was from people calling me faggot. It’s kind of weird: I never associated being gay with being with other people. Never a romantic thing, it was more like a designation, like being left-handed or of a certain race; it was my identity, not an action.

PGN: Do you remember having a moment when you realized what it was? GA: Well, my best friend in high school, Edward, who is now my co-host on the Podcast, came up to me and some friends — we were at a wild party at someone’s house whose parents were away (it was crazy, I slapped somebody in the face that night), but I digress. Anyway, he told our group of friends that he was bisexual and he wanted to know if we were OK with it. I remember it was the first time that anyone had said it before, and the first time it registered with me that someone could be gay. It’s funny, I remember telling him that it was OK with me, that I was still his friend, knowing full well in my heart that I was gay too!

PGN: So let’s do some arbitrary questions … what’s the coldest you’ve ever been? GA: [Laughs.] Emotionally or physically?

PGN: I leave that to your interpretation … GA: OK, the coldest I’ve been emotionally was when I was in college. There was this woman at school who had baked a chocolate vegan cake. She was a little unstable and she’d left the cake out in the hallway while we were having a party. I took a bite of it and it was disgusting. Something inspired me to throw it down the flight of stairs. She had a fit and, not long after that, was institutionalized. That was cold.

PGN: What’s the farthest you’ve traveled? GA: I went to Morocco with some friends when I was young. It drove me crazy because they kept stopping at the roadside stands to pick up these stupid plastic trinkets. Once the merchants see you buying things, you get hounded. One time, we were going down the road and, by the time we got to the end, there was a hoard of 40 people following us with trays. It was like a Moroccan busker version of paparazzi.

PGN: Do you collect anything? GA: I have an insane collection of Pete Burns memorabilia. I have every record he’s ever done, I have Dead or Alive towels, smocks, banners, you name it. It’s the same thing for Culture Club: I have a Boy George apron and hundreds of other types of memorabilia. When I was younger, I was also into comic books. I collected mostly X-Men comics. I loved Storm, especially the ’80s mohawk Storm. I still must have about 3,000 comic books in the basement of my parents’ house.

PGN: Beauty secret? GA: A lot of hydration. Whenever I have a cocktail, I try to mix it in with ginger echinacea or purple carrot juice. I do healthy martini parties for my friends. You’ll have to join me next time.

PGN: You got it.

For more information about AlleyInk or “I’m Going to Kill You,” visit

To suggest a community member for “Family Portraits,” write to: Family Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected].