We went for a coffee with Ali Saeedian to talk about go-go dancing, cowboy costumes, and leaving hate at the door
I met a male go-go dancer in a coffee shop the other day to talk about pink chaps, pride floats, and a brand-new Queer rave that's launching in September. Just your average Friday really.
Think Studio 54, but with a touch of Wigan Pier
Ali Saeedian is quickly becoming the face of Manchester’s nightlife scene, with handmade costumes, innovative routines and a passion for paying Queer artists a fair wage. Whilst most of us were making banana bread and crying at Normal People during the lockdown of 2020, Ali started to work on his art and establish a vision for his creative outlets - which include everything from dance and fitness to fashion design.
With the Mancunian nightlife scene now back to its eclectic and thriving self, Ali has residencies and regular performances at some of our favourite venues including Albert's Schloss, Homobloc, and Cruz 101. He’s also setting up his own night at The Star & Garter, but we’ll get to that later.
As a figure who is now known for his Sexy Cowboy persona, juxtaposing identity and love for all things inclusive, Ali highlighted that his go-go dancing journey has allowed him to meet loads of great people, whilst realising just how much the Manchester scene is missing out on when it comes to Queer events and spaces. We also talked about bunny costumes, accountancy and grungy club venues.
Ali wasn’t dressed as a bejewelled cowboy in 200 Degrees though, unfortunately.
Drags to riches
Becoming a male go-go dancer wasn’t always part of the plan. Starting off as a drag artist, Ali explained just how much the scene has changed since the pandemic: “Before lockdown, I used to do drag. Everyone knew me because I was quite a big name, but since lockdown, the scene has really changed and I just had to start again. One of my friends who I used to perform for was managing the entertainment for a bar in town, and he said, 'I think we want to add something extra to the bar’s opening week post-lockdown.'”
Ali’s friend asked him to come and dance in the club, and he immediately said yes. Realising that drag was now less prevalent for him as a performer, he explained: “When I did drag I wanted a beard, I wanted to get fit and get more muscular, but it really stopped me from being able to do that.
When I got into fitness in lockdown, I realised that I still missed performing and the creative side of things, but afterwards, I was given the opportunity to perform as myself. My friend asked me straight away, “do you think you know more guys that could do that?”.
Ali soon gathered a team of five or six male dancers and started making rotas, designing outfits, and getting in touch with performers that he’d met before the pandemic in places like Schloss. Clubs started taking Ali on as a dancer, and not in drag, but as himself. Now a visible and working performer, Ali said: “It’s been such a success because you rarely see a man dancing like this, people love it. London has some male go-go dancers, but this is a first for Manchester.”
A lot of the inspirations behind Ali’s looks, costumes, and self-image come from juxtapositions in society. As a man in jeans, trainers, and a baseball cap sat before me, the photos I’d seen of him wearing angel wings and glittery shades seemed incredibly far removed. This is something Ali likes playing around with, and explaining his creative process, he said, “I like colours that don’t go together or ideas that don’t go together. I love men wearing women’s clothes, underwear as outerwear, just two things being put together that don’t go. That’s such an inspiration for me.”
Like a rhinestone cowboy
Ali’s most iconic look is his cowboy outfit, complete with bows, jewels, chaps, and a proper cowboy hat. Talking about the juxtapositions at play within this signature look, Ali said: “With the cowboy outfit, it's playing with the contrast between masculinity and femininity. In my life, and in my brain in general, I feel like I am both masculine and feminine. My friends have said to me, 'Ali it's so great that you have a beard and go to the gym, but then you can wear a skirt and a crop top' and I love that."
Ali also chatted about dressing up as a bunny when Albert's Schloss had a hunting-themed night, and designing floats with themes like “colours of the rainbow” and “education” for loads of different Mancunian Pride events.
As well as being a go-go dancer, Ali has a day job in accounting. For him, this is another juxtaposition as his brain is both analytical and creative and, in his words, "I love to exercise both parts of my identity". Accountant by day, sexy cowboy by night, it's like a Channing Tatum movie.
Bollocks and body positivity
A lot of the questions I had for Ali were about the night-time performance scene in general. Interested to know how inclusive the industry actually is, I asked about whether being a male go-go dancer is widely accepted, or whether he's faced any discrimination as a proud gay individual from an Iranian background?
“Compared to even pre-lockdown, I think the standards of beauty and acceptance have changed, and that’s made a big difference. People aren’t considered 'fat' anymore, and body positivity means different body types are seen in a positive way. There are nights like Bollocks where all different body types are being shown off and performers are being who they want to be.
"However, these new standards are missing from the Village. For me, I’m Queer, I’m from an Iranian background, and it was quite easy to get here because I had a lot of connections, but I can see a lot of people struggling. Staffing in the Village doesn’t include many non-binary people, trans people, people of colour etc and they’re not even featured on the posters for events. I want to change that.”
Ali has a club night called All Sorts at Cruz 101 in which “all sorts of people are welcome”. He explains, “We have a non-binary artist who performs topless because they see the male dancers doing the same, and I just think fair enough, no one should be ashamed of their body.”
This go-go dancer’s latest venture is a brand new club night called Your Dad Sells Avon (we’ve all heard that one before). The event is described as “unashamedly Queer, outwardly eccentric and proudly Manc”, and you can’t ask for much more than that. A night designed for “boys to wear dresses, girls to kiss girls, and non-binary folk to be celebrated”, Ali asks us to “Think Studio 54, but with a touch of Wigan Pier”. We're picturing Diana Ross in dayglo and cycling shorts.
The poster for the event itself also plays with the all-important juxtapositions as, “from afar, it looks like an ad for a Tarantino action film, but it’s actually promoting a Queer club night.” Inspired by 90s-style raves and inclusive public spaces, Your Dad Sells Avon (YDSA) will be hosted at The Star & Garter on Fairfield Street on Saturday 24 September.
Ali is hoping to make the night a regular thing if its a success, but ultimately, “I want to create a memorable night where everyone feels safe, the kind of night where you’ll see a non-binary person in a dress and fishnets talking to a straight guy in a bucket hat just having a cigarette and a laugh. A night where you leave your hate at the door.”
"I chose the venue for its reputation in the live music industry and its authenticity as a beautiful and historical building," Ali explains. “I was looking for a place in the Village, but there was nothing quite this grungy and authentic. Everywhere felt quite clean. Its one of the oldest live music venues in Manchester, and when I found this place I thought, this is the perfect environment, and I’m very loyal to my home town. The venue has been so good to me.”
Inclusivity is key
For Ali, YDSA is an opportunity to create a completely inclusive environment. Absolutely set on making sure the staff are paid a fair wage and the efforts from the Queer community are appreciated, the dancer emphasised, “All the dancers, the DJs, everyone that works on the night, will be people of colour, trans, non-binary, Queer, gay, just something different you know.” The goal is to create a safe space, and for Ali, this means “creating a space where people feel comfortable and look forward to coming again next time.”
Ali Saeedian has been a staple act in the Manchester club scene for 14 years now, and feels deeply passionate about the city’s LGBTQ nightlife and its economy. One of the main goals in his career, and with YDSA in particular, is to “create opportunities and work for the aforementioned groups, and help new rising artists network and find work.”
Not just a one-trick Sexy Cowboy, Ali has other upcoming shows, opportunities and collaborations with The George House Trust Charity Foundation, Homobloc, Manchester RubberMen and Federation to name but a few.
Header Image: Cruz 101
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