Rawhide Ballet

Wed. April 23, 2008 12:00 AM
by Jason P. Freeman

Always adorned with a smile and trendy, clean-cut attire, Ken Gasch appears bashfully unassuming. His soft features combine matured cherub with all-American boy, and he giggles at everything. The 27-year-old dancer and HouseHold Arts Collective artistic director says he's "filled with nervous energy." Yet underneath a prep school-styled necktie and fitted slacks, Gasch's low-rise briefs are black. His underwear complements the metal-studded straps and harness openly cataloged in his wardrobe. He keeps his spit-shined combat boots next to his ballet slippers. Gasch can't be that unassuming.

Prior to becoming a Chicago-based choreographer and leather boy, Gasch was a closeted teenager in Cleveland, Ohio. He found a penchant for dance after accepting his high school girlfriend's invitation to perform in their community center's production of "The Nutcracker." Before acquiring credits with Dance New Amsterdam, the Boofont Sisters cabaret, the New York Fringe Festival and an award-winning independent film, Gasch studied choreography at Case Western Reserve University. He co-founded HouseHold, as a non-profit, all-inclusive dance initiative, with Seth Jaffe shortly after relocating to Chicago in 2004.

"I wanted an outlet that didn't just invite people to attend, but actively get people involved in the arts," Gasch explains.

Disillusioned by intimidating and exclusive auditions that he witnessed inside the industry, Gasch designed HouseHold to make dance attainable to talent at every skill-level. The company's concerts mix amateur dancers with professional performers in their ensembles. Proceeds from the performances are donated to charitable institutions.

Around HouseHold's inception, Gasch also came out and instantly found his favorite flowers in the gay bouquet. He attended his first International Mr. Leather in 2004, and he liked it. Volunteering at the leather fest every year after, Gasch also took part in other LGBT organizations via dance-related programs for Horizons Youth Group, the Human Rights Campaign and Test Positive Aware Network.

While Gasch's gay buds bloomed, HouseHold blossomed as well. The collective evolved into a multifaceted fundraising troupe, adding new departments to incorporate experimental dance showcases and visual arts exhibitions. However, Gasch admits that his leather collection hasn't progressed in kind.

"It's modest," he smiles. Then, he giggles. "But it's growing."

HouseHold's 2008 season opened in February with an experimental dance makers series. "Reverse Auditions" are being held May 4. An art exhibit and a dance concert are scheduled for June and July respectively. Complete event information is posted on