Transgender KU grad’s story lands on unlikely stage: ‘Dance Moms’

Jay Pryor

“When I was your age,” a bearded and button-up clad Jay Pryor tells a handful of dolled-up young dancers, “my name was Janet.”

That’s from an online trailer advertising a new episode of “Dance Moms” featuring choreography inspired by the story of Pryor’s transformation from woman to man. The episode is scheduled to air tonight at 9/8c on Lifetime.

Pryor, a KU grad, lives in Lawrence with his wife and two children and works as a life-coach, including teaching women’s empowerment seminars. (The Journal-World featured him in 2009 and quoted him in a recent story reacting to Olympian and TV star Bruce Jenner’s transformation into Caitlyn.) He said his own journey included a suicidal period that landed him in a psychiatric unit and that he has had close friends commit suicide after changing genders. He said he hopes his story will help LGBT youth who are struggling and he’s glad for the opportunity to share it with the millions of people who watch “Dance Moms.”

“I’m also nervous,” he said. “It’s my life in front of millions of people. I’m feeling a little vulnerable. But more than anything I feel blessed by the opportunity to make a difference.”

Here’s how Pryor’s experience meandered its way to what would seem the most unlikely of stages — a reality TV show featuring tweens in the competitive dance world, and their moms.

A few years back, Pryor shared his story when the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles stopped in Lawrence during a touring stage show inspired by the It Gets Better Project, which supports LGBT teens, he said. Eventually — after a follow-up with the director and some additional interviews — his story became the inspiration for an original song by Danish artists Kier and Sascha DuPont titled “Run, Run, Run,” which the chorus performed during later stage shows. Show director Liesel Reinhart summarized in a Huffington Post blog last week: “The song is intended to capture the push and pull of forces that Jay experiences as a young trans person, first running away from something and then realizing he was running toward something else.” “Dance Moms” took notice and picked the Pryor-inspired song for the show.

Pryor flew to Los Angeles, where he met the girls who would be dancing to his song (for you “Dance Moms” fans, they’re from the Candy Apple’s team). They’d never met a transgendered person, he said, but they were “so sweet,” hardworking and talented dancers. During rehearsal, he not only saw the choreography but he also heard the song he inspired for the first time.

“I bawled like a baby,” Pryor said. “I was very moved.”

In the trailer, Pryor tearfully tells the girls about friends of his who committed suicide after struggling emotionally with their sexuality. “You guys are saving lives by doing this … I can’t even tell you how much I appreciate that.”

Pryor isn’t sure how much, if any, he’ll appear in tonight’s episode. But he was in Los Angeles for taping and saw who wins the dance competition — of course, he’s not allowed to tell.