Sissy Boyd: Dancing Queen

Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter

“I felt like I could never dance again,” says Sissy Boyd, who stopped three decades ago after a paralyzing bout of Guillain Barré Syndrome. Boyd, who trained with Martha Graham, has done three performances this year with avant-garde L.A. choreographer Ken Roht’s Orphean Circus Ensemble, including last month’s Snake Dance, in which she worked with two 90-pound snakes. “It’s unbelievable,” she says of being rediscovered by Roht last year while studying writing at an opera workshop. “Everyone was experimenting with movement, and I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ He actually said, ‘You have nice moves.’”

The dancer-actress-poet-playwright started dance late, taking her first class as a junior at “an uptight” finishing school in Virginia. The year was 1959. Her teacher was a beatnik Bennington student on winter work term. After that, Boyd grew her hair and “started to write bad little poems about loneliness and walking on the beach.” When Boyd arrived at the University of Pennsylvania, her hair was down to her ass, and she got called “frisky.” She was eventually kicked out. “They asked if I believed in ‘free love.’ They said they heard I slid down the banister without my underpants,” laughs Boyd.

She studied with Graham at a summer dance program in Connecticut, then went to New York and enrolled in Graham’s school. She worked with other choreographers, waited tables and appeared nude in some art films. “It wasn’t a main-stage dancing career. I was on the outskirts.” She moved to L.A. at 30, had two kids, started writing and occasionally acted in films, such as Allison Anders’ Gas Food Lodging. “I had buried how much I loved to dance,” says Boyd, who will appear in Roht’s 99 Cents Only Dance Extravaganza at the Evidence Room in November. “It’s amazing that Ken saw that.”


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