100 Creatives: Choreographer Pioneer Winter Creates Dance as Diverse as Miami Itself

In honor of our "People" issue, which hit newsstands today and is live on our website, New Times proudly presents "100 Creatives," where we feature Miami's cultural superheroes. Have suggestions for future profiles? Let us know in the comments.

#85: Pioneer Winter

Pioneer Winter is not your average choreographer. The 28-year-old native Miamian has a master’s degree in public health and epidemiology, along with a master of fine arts in choreography. He combines his two fields of interest to create avant-garde, socially conscious, and experimental work. Winter founded and runs Pioneer Winter Collective, which creates dance and physical theater performances; does outreach work with LGBTQ youth; and makes dance on film. Under the collective’s umbrella is Grass Stains, a site-specific performance initiative, and L.E.A.P. (Leaders of Equality through Arts and Performance), a platform for LGBTQ youth activism and artistry.

In addition to running the collective, Winter lectures at the FIU Honors College, teaching classes about public health, epistemology, and propaganda. Winter says his knowledge and teaching experience inspire and inform his work as a choreographer. “I didn’t always want to dance, but I’ve come to understand that the performing arts are a really amazing way to talk about sensitive topics without the audience shutting you out because it’s still a source of entertainment,” Winter says.

His performances are based on current events and relevant topics for the local and global community, such as power and authority, discrimination, health disparities, and body dysmorphia. In Gimp Gait, Winter performs a duet with Marjorie Burnett, a 50-year-old woman with severe cerebral palsy, without her motorized wheelchair. Winter says, “Our focus is on democratizing performance. It’s impossible to be relevant by using bodies that don’t look like ours. If we’re going to talk about human topics, we need to use humans, not superhumans.”

What was your last big project?
As choreographer, the last big project was converting Gimp Gait, which is a 15-minute duet, into a five-minute dance on film. We just applied for 20 film festivals. And we heard that we got into four of the 20. We’re going to continue to find out. We got into ScreenDance Miami, NYC Dance on Camera, Cucalorus Film Festival, and San Francisco Transgender Film Festival. I’m also the director of ScreenDance Miami, but I still had to go through the whole panel and everything.

It’s a time investment to turn a performance into a dance on film. But we’re able to send that out to so many festivals and get this interest and coverage without us having to physically be there. For a small organization like mine, it’s one of the best options for us. It’s very difficult to travel when you don’t have a whole lot of money, because you have to choose between doing something locally and doing something abroad. And we’ve been focusing on performing here and building here in Miami.

What is your next big project?
Our next big performance will be February 9 and 10 at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, where the Miami Light Project is. In the performance, we’re looking at the continuum of queerness. Miami is gay, but it’s not very queer. It’s sensual but not very sexual. So what are these boundaries and categories that we place ourselves and each other in? Labeling is so important to us as human beings to both self-identify as well as identify others. So we’re going to be looking at this continuum of queer virtuosity.

The guts that it takes for a gay boy to walk down the street wearing shorts that are very short is the same guts it takes for a 50-year-old bisexual woman with cerebral palsy to raise her hand and tell you that she’s a professional dancer for a living. I’ve worked with a dancer that has incredible virtuosity who could be a professional or on Broadway, but his weight has always been something that held him back with traditional companies. The opportunities he has with us, given his physique, is what makes him human.

Because it’s in February, we’re going to tie in this theme of love: love of self, love of other. I’m still working on it. I don’t even have a title for it yet; I’m playing around with a few different titles. But it’ll be a mixture between really beautiful contemporary dance and stuff that’s a little grittier. We’re going to introduce both to the audience and show how both of those things are what make me a queer choreographer. It’s not just the glamour, or a fabulousness, but it’s also not a transgression. It can be a mix. I’m not sure if it will be a continuous performance or vignettes. I’ll have a better idea once I’ve selected cast and we’ve gone into rehearsal, which will be later this month.

What do you want Miami to know about you?
I know a lot of artists talk shit about Miami, but I’m really happy to be in Miami. I’m very proud to be a native Miamian because I feel like Miami is the one place where, if you think of it and you have the wherewithal, you can create it. That’s how a lot of my projects came about, because I was wondering whether they existed already. I saw they didn’t, and I thought, I better make it, then. Miami allows for you to do that. There’s very little red tape for a young, emerging artist to sink their teeth into this many projects and do this many things. It’s rare to have a community that’s so open. Miami is a place where you can make your own game and your own rules. I’m grateful for that opportunity. I want to work with as many people as possible, and if someone has a story that they want to tell, I’m all ears.

What don’t you want Miami to know about you?
There isn’t a single thing I don’t want Miami to know about me. I’m completely open and bare. I implicate myself as much as I implicate others in the work I do. So I’m really used to being honest. So there isn’t a single thing that I wouldn’t want someone to know about me because it all adds up with being able to appreciate what I’m trying to do. I’ve never understood other artists who create work with something they aren’t personally tied to. I would feel like an outsider in that territory. Everything I make has some part of me in it; it’s somehow autobiographic. It can be as literal as using a journal that belonged to my mom in a performance or being the surrogate body for someone who has a disability like cerebral palsy. I would say I’m just as naked in those pieces as I am in the other work that we do.

What do you want the world to know about Miami?
Stop complaining! For the resources that we have, Miami is navigating the best we can. I think Miami is a place to be able to make something that doesn’t yet exist. I think Miami is not a good place for someone who isn’t a self-starter, someone who just wants to join an organization that’s already amazing. But if you want to make an organization that could be amazing, if you want to create art even though there isn’t an audience yet for it, Miami is the place. I make really avant-garde work, and sometimes there isn’t a big audience that’s subscribing to that, but if you stick with it long enough, you build that audience. I want the world to know that Miami is a bunch of builders and not just the developers that are destroying Wynwood. We’re a city of makers.
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth