On Tuesday evening at rush hour, Qween Amor stood out in a coffee shop near Union Square. The 25-year-old was dressed to dance in a ladder of thin black strings that just barely formed a halter top, pink lamé leggings, a black and pink headscarf and a $40 black puffer coat from Burlington Coat Factory donated by a generous stranger.
The young dancer, who prefers to only go by Qween Amor, does not identify with a gender and prefers the pronoun s/he. Amor has become something of a fixture at the Union Square subway station, where a few times a week s/he twirls and lip-syncs to pop songs in little else but high heels, and maybe a unicorn hat or devil horns. Amor’s performances always draw a massive crowd of passersby taking photos and videos on their phones. Sometimes, the commotion is so great that police officers ask the dancer to leave.
Amor moved to New York by way of Washington, D.C. S/he left Orlando, Fla., after the triple whammy of dropping out of community college, losing a job and getting dumped by a live-in boyfriend.
“I was at a crossroads – I could rebuild and finish my degree or do something different,” Amor said. “My life was falling apart and I was having serious revelations about my spirituality, and finding a connection with music and the universe.”
Amor decided to pursue a new dream: S/he wanted to dance and travel the country. Amor lived out of a van for several months in D.C. until the van, too, failed.
“My van blew up and caught on fire, and because I needed to make money, I started this street show in D.C. and I thought, ‘Maybe I can make more money in New York,’” Amor said.
Amor’s instinct proved to be correct. S/he took a bus to New York last February with just $60, an amp, a backpack full of clothes and some dance moves.
“The first time I danced, I made $150,” s/he said.
But the money s/he earned from dancing on street corners and in subway stations still wasn’t enough to both pay rent and save money for a new van, Amor said. S/he opted for the latter and slept on park benches until the winter, when s/he spent the night in subway cars instead. Just a month ago, a Facebook friend offered to let Amor stay in his spare room in Jackson Heights in exchange for some housework and $50 a week.
“Now, instead of worrying about surviving every day, I can put it toward my tour,” Amor said.
Amor said that s/he could make nothing at all or up to $200, depending on the crowd and whether the police say s/he should leave. Sometimes, Amor makes money as a sex worker.
“I don’t feel guilty or ashamed,” Amor said. “For me, it’s an easy way to make quick money. It’s not pleasing and it doesn’t make me happy, but it gets me by.”
Amor added that s/he refuses to take a traditional job and work for minimum wage.
Amor’s dream is to save enough money so s/he can buy a van and dance through California, and then the Bible Belt.
“I want to start in front of the Westboro Baptist Church,” s/he said. “I’m tired of scrolling through Facebook and seeing people using God to justify bigotry – I want to fight that ignorance.”
Amor said s/he has a message to spread: “Love and freedom and beauty and spirit is not something we speak about. Words can’t convey what love or freedom is – people still don’t get it. But I can sing it and I can dance it and show what it is to be free.”
It hasn’t been easy to spread the message. Last May, Amor was assaulted and told Metro s/he has even been called the devil by some people. But these setbacks haven’t stopped Amor.
“Am I supposed to stop doing what I love to comfort other people’s ignorance, or keep doing what I’m doing and love who I am?” s/he asked.
Amor often thinks about giving up, but fends off doubt by reading a notebook filled with encouraging comments from audience members and listening to music.
“There’s no guarantee I’m going to have a situated life by 30,” s/he said. “How long am I going to be homeless? I don’t want to be on street corners by the time I’m 40. I want to have elaborate theatrical shows.”
Still, Amor said s/he has no real intentions of giving up.
“Until my body tells me I can’t dance, I’m going to dance all over the world,” Amor said. S/he hopes to raise enough funds through dancing and a GoFundMe campaign to buy a van this spring or summer, but plans to return to New York one day – at least for a visit.
“When I leave New York and develop my name and come back, it will be more beautiful to me than what it is now.” Amor said.
Follow Andrea Park on Twitter: @andreapark