Once upon a time I walked into a magical place called Remmington’s, the premiere gay country western bar in the Mid-Atlantic. The drinks were stiff and the floor was wooden and slick- the ingredients for a perfect night of line dancing. As I approached the bar after my first round of bar mitzvah choreography rediscovery, something caught my eye: a calendar filled with men aglow- light bouncing from their rhinestone western wear and well-oiled hairless chests. It was the D.C. Cowboys– an all-male dance troupe for gay men.
The D.C. Cowboys aren’t just a group of tarts dressed in glittery checkerboard plaid camping and vamping on stage. The Cowboys are a highly skilled, disciplined, international acclaimed group with a long history. Since 1994, the Cowboys have had a consistent presence in a city known for its transient population and ever changing gay community. Under the leadership of founder Kevin Platte, the Cowboys have gained a reputation for crowd pleasing that has taken them to the sound studios of America’s Got Talent and the town squares Eastern Europe.
Let’s meet the Cowboys:
Kevin- Founder and Dancer
So tell me about the history of the Cowboys.
The DC Cowboys started 15 and a half years ago on a whim to perform at a gay rodeo. At the time it was a supposed to be a one-time deal.
There was the gay rodeo in D.C?
Yeah, every year they used to have a gay rodeo and in the evening they’d have entertainment and big dances. I thought that maybe I’d get 12 guys together and do something, put together a dance group.
What is your dance experience?
I was trained in college. Jazz is my background. And I’ve never had any dance experience I’ve only had training. So one day I decided to put two numbers together with12 guys. We did a show and it was such a huge hit that we thought wow, let’s continue.
How are the Cowboys now different than the first generation of Cowboys?
It has gotten better. The choreography has gotten better. The skill of the dancer has gotten better. The look has gotten better. Some sexier guys, because we’ve realized what our target audience is now.
What is that?
Gay men and straight women. And we learned that after being on America’s Got Talent that we had a big market in straight women, just like Kathy Griffin with gay men. And I didn’t realize the women really enjoyed it until we got national press on TV. So, it’s been quite the adventure. It started slow and it built every year until I kind of developed the design of the group. Like what do we stand for.
What do you stand for?
We always like to say ‘Sexy Masculine, Cowboy, Broadway, Think Brokeback meets Broadway’
So you mean like what you stand for aesthetically.
So what do you stand for, what do you represent in the community? Or what do you bring to each other?
We represent gay men. It’s more than a dance company. Because there are very few organizations in the gay community that really nurture people and have a good environment where guys can be themselves, learn a little bit about themselves and how to be responsible as a performer, what they need to do to attain a certain level of expertise. A lot of these guys get so many things out of it, friendship, performance, to growing up, to coming out.
What have you gotten out of it?
Joy. It’s been the best thing that has ever happened. It’s my passion come alive. And I thought after all that training, nothing was going to happen.
What are your plans for the future?
Well last year was making it to Europe, we’ve done that now multiple times. Canada part of the US. I want to take us to Asia next and I want us to have our own reality TV show- we’ve talked with production companies and they’re interested because what can be more drama than 12 gay men.
Craig- Choreographer and Dancer
As a choreographer, what stresses you out the most?
I think the hardest thing for me is that we never know how many people are going to be doing a given routine, where we are doing a given routine, or how big the space is going to be. So you’re very limited. You can’t set too much specifically with the choreography, beyond the actual steps, or in terms of where you place people because you never know what the show is going to look like. You can’t say, ‘Oh I want this person to do this, and this person to do that.’ You have to think in broader terms. Which is frustrating because if you have things in your head that you really want to do and you can’t do them because of so many unknown factors.
Have you had any choreography that has been banned?
I haven’t had any choreography that has been banned, I’ve had choreography that’s been changed. Stuff that just wasn’t working, as a whole for the group, some people were getting it some people weren’t. Not necessarily anything that was too sexual, just stuff that didn’t look right in terms of our style.
How much of your choreography is line dancing?
Most of what we do is kind of like a combination of country meets Broadway. So it’s kinda like choreographed jazz hands routines, but basically jazz dance. The country comes more in actual style than it does in steps.
Do you guys traditionally perform at gay events and gay venues?
For the most part yeah. I mean whether it’s a fundraiser or charity event of some kind or gay pride of whatever. Usually gay events.
America’s Got Talent isn’t a traditional gay venue! How was the response after your time on the show?
Very positive. Being seen nation-wide by 40 million people has gotten us a lot of bookings, more outside the United States. But within the United States, I think a lot of the gay population may have already heard of us or seen us, so it introduced us to main-stream America which has opened doors for us.
What are the dynamics between the guys in the group? Is there competition? Is there a diva in the group and everyone is trying to get the solo?
I don’t know that it’s competitive necessarily. We’re all kind of brothers in a way, so everybody is here to support each other. That being said, I’m sure there are times when everybody was like, ‘why am I not in the front row? Why is so-and-so in the front row?’ But overall, we’re very supportive of each other. We don’t have any cat fights or anything.
What’s your favorite part about being a part of the Cowboys? What do you value most?
The friendship, the camaraderie. Getting to hangout with these guys outside of rehearsal is always fun. I’ve managed to make some really good friends over the years and I’ve also gotten some really good trips out of it too.
How did they receive you overseas?
The only overseas trip I’ve done was Budapest and they loved us over there. We had a great time over there. I think because we were something they’d never seen before. So it was really nice. The response was awesome, we couldn’t have asked for a better reception.
How long have you been a Cowboy?
It’s my second year.
How’d you get started?
Uh..I went through an 8-week audition process.
How’d you find out about the Cowboys?
Well, I used to live in Las Vegas. And it was at the gay rodeo I think in 2004, 2005 that the DC Cowboys came and performed. And that’s how I heard about them. I’m from Northern Virginia, so whenever I would come home to visit my parents, they would have a local gig and I would go to it. I became a big fan, and I said to myself if I ever come back the DC Metropolitan Area I would see about auditioning.
And how was the audition process?
The process was pretty intense. I don’t really have stronger dance background, I’m kind of like to dance for fun. And this organization combines the activity of dancing and giving back to the community and combines it all together to make it possible.
What do you think got you in if you’re not a good dancer?
I think some sort of natural dance ability, personality, likability, reliability are other factors.
So, what’s your favorite part about being a Cowboy?
I think my favorite part about being a Cowboy is the strong relationships that I’ve built just in the past year and a half. I feel like I’ve known these guys for a short amount of time, but I also feel like I’ve known them for a lifetime.
What’s your dream performance with the Cowboys?
My dream performance would either be to perform on a cruise or to perform in Australia. Australia is a place I’ve been dying to see and if I could go there with the Cowboys, it would be a dream come true.
Is there a Cowboy you have a crush on?
Not in particular no.
How about historically? Like John Wayne?
No not historically. I just like the costumes and the lifestyle.
Do you have dance experience?
Yeah, my mom owned a dance studio for a while. My sister’s a dance teacher. So I took dance when I was younger, but I hadn’t taken it since I was 10 or 12.
When did you join the Cowboys?
This is my second year. I hadn’t danced up until that point. It was a different style than I was used to because I took jazz, tap and ballet. But it started to come naturally eventually.
One of the other Cowboy’s mentioned that you were a star performer. Do you admit to that?
Everyone jokes that I’m the face of the Cowboys. I’m typically front row center-ish. And I go to a lot of the gigs. But everyone here is really great.
How did you find out about the Cowboys?
My sister saw them perform at a gig she was helping organizing on the Odyssey cruise ship. So she saw them and she said, ‘Johnny you have to join, you have to join.’ And I was like I’m not joining them. So I checked them out and found out their auditions were the next day and was like, I’m definitely not joining them. And she was like, ‘No, you’re going.’ So I went.
What do you do to get ready for a performance?
I kind of just get nervous for a little while. Like right before I go on stage. And then once I’m on stage, I’m fine.
Spoken like a true child star.
I’m honestly crazy nervous every time.
If you could change one thing about the Cowboys what would it be?
I would love to do this full time. If it was possible to travel around the world and get paid, I would love that. For now it’s good.
Barbara- Stage Manager
How long have you been working with the Cowboys? And how did you get involved?
I have been with the Cowboys since 2006. Actually I saw them at one of the Pride events, I knew the former stage manager and volunteered if she ever needed a back up.
What are your duties as stage manager?
It varies from being a nurse to being a counselor to rallying up the guys, making sure they’re ready for everything that they’re doing. I control the music, help out with critiquing their choreography.
Do you go on tour with the Cowboys?
Oh yes. I’ve been on every trip with them so far.
What’s like the most disastrous thing that has ever happened in your time as stage manager?
Well, if somebody’s not ready for a performance. While we were in Budapest last year we lost one of our dancers while we were touring the city. So that had me freaked out, but we located him.
What would you like to see become of the Cowboys? What would be your moment of triumph?
I think the moment of triumph would be when we can all finally quit our day jobs and do this full-time.
Brandon – Costume designer and dancer
What do you like better: the dancing or the outfits?
(Laughs) I make all the outfits for the group. I have for years.
Tell me the creative process.
It’s a lot of website searching for things that can serve as a base. It’s a lot of website searching for things that can serve as a base. And then once you get the shirt in, you have to modify it to fit each cowboy.
So you find shirts at the western stores on line?
As cheap as you can get because we can’t afford anything Yeah we try to find the $10 shirt, get 50 of them. And then you rip them apart, take the sleeves off, fit them and make them look like something gay that other people would want to wear.
If you had a bigger budget would you become the costume master?
I would love that. When we were doing America’s Got Talent a few years ago , I actually had a budget to do costuming and that was tons of fun to work with their design staff that we wore for that show. Which is actually the first time we did anything with sparkles and bedazzling. And now everything is. It’s become a big hit for us.
What are your style tips for future gay cowboys?
Onstage sparkle and fine as much as possible, off stage obviously tone it down a bit.
Do you have a favorite piece of clothing?
A huge belt buckle. My sister got me that a couple years ago. A GIANT Texas belt buckle.
Do you guys have any merchandise?
Of course! Go online you can see everything there. Shirts, jackets, got the calendars, all that good stuff.
If you could perform along side any musical act what would be your dream bill to open for with the Gay Cowboys? And where would it be?
Carrie Underwood (could possibly be performing for her in Canada). Really country singers, I personally love Madonna, Cher andthese types of performers which would be amazing for me. But on the country side I think Carrie Underwood is pretty impressive.
The D.C. Cowboys will be performing at the Capital Pride Parade on Saturday, at 6:30 PM
and at the Capital Pride on Main Stage, opening for Chely Wright, Sunday, at 5:00 PM
For more info:
ALSO- Don’t forget to get your official Pride Closing Party tickets: HOMO ERECTUS IS ON SATURDAY!!!!!