Credit: Stephanie Rudig

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What is a “feminist, punk-rock dance band?” Surely the opposite of academically minded contemporary dancers, right? Not quite. Tia Nina is a trio of Martha Graham–loving, punk-playing academics, and defying expectations is kind of the group’s thing.

Tia Nina claims a mythical origin story: Fate brought three strangers together on a cross-country motorcycle trip that culminated in a spiritual experience in the desert. Those three strangers were future band members J Van Stone (Leah Curran Moon), Sammy Rain (Ilana Silverstein), and Sticks (Lisi Stoessel).

Though they are dancers, Tia Nina’s members can also call their group a band. The trio works with songwriters and musicians to create original songs for its performances, and Tia Nina is on a mission to use punk rock and dance to question politics, sex, and gender.

“If you dig deeper, critical ideas about sex, politics, gender, and the body infuse almost everything we do,” Moon says via email. “Audiences can have a great time if they just watch for the entertainment. Or they can engage more deeply and write about us on their Women’s Studies final.”

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Tia Nina got its start with Fringe back in 2013, with the aptly titled Pitchin’ the Tent in the Baldacchino Tent at Fort Fringe. Pitchin’ the Tent was a deconstruction of a rock performance, with the three women each embodying unique eras in that genre’s history.

“The overwhelmingly positive response to our show played a big part in us coming back to [Fringe],” Moon says. “We knew we were onto something big. The audiences at Fringe are amazing.” Moon says the group then started immediately working on its latest piece, JUICED!

JUICED! is a cross between a punk show and a modern dance concert—or in the parlance of Tia Nina, a “gender meltdown.” In a departure from Pitchin’ the Tent, JUICED! will bring a fully integrated lighting and projection design to the Eastman Studio Theatre at Gallaudet, which should complete the concert aesthetic. Successful runs at The Clarice at the University of Maryland in 2015 and the bMORE FEMINIST MELTDOWN in May mean Fringe audiences can expect a polished performance. With some rock ’n’ roll grit, of course.

“The set doesn’t follow an overarching plot, but audiences can expect to have their faces melted off for sure. They can also expect gritty, athletic dancing; slammin’ original tunes; and lots of fun,” Moon says. “At its core, the show is an unapologetic, satirical sexism takedown complete with tit puppets, crotch lights, and a healthy dose of glitter blood.”

Given the tit puppets, crotch lights, and glitter blood, it might surprise audiences that when they’re not putting on dance shows, Tia Nina’s members bring their particular brand of punk-rock feminism to classrooms. The trio offers master classes and lecture demonstrations to students from middle school to college. They have serious academic cred, too. Moon boasts a Ph.D. and the band counts faculty from the University of Maryland and George Washington University among its vocal supporters.

“Our content shifts when we teach younger students, but our core message is the same,” Moon says. “Question gender, own your body, take up space, make some… noise!”

That kind of approach to educating young people reflects Tia Nina’s radical fusion of technique-laden modern dance and punk music. Dance associated with punk music does not necessarily have its roots in decades-old contemporary or modern dance techniques. Moon insists, however, that perfect technique does not interest them and that the “obsession with technicism and perfection in mainstream modern dance silences dancers.”

Like its forebears in punk rock, Tia Nina balances two important goals: to put on a good show and to inspire the audience to change the way they think. At a Tia Nina performance, you never have to choose between intellectual engagement or fun; formal dance or radical music; art or politics.

“Do the ideas liberate? Do they make us think differently about the world? That’s what’s interesting. That’s what matters,” Moon says. “That’s Tia Nina.”

July 7, 10, 16, 21, and 24. Gallaudet University: Eastman Studio Theatre, Florida Avenue NE and 8th Street NE. $17. tianinarocks.com.