August 02, 2023
Artists, dancers and LGBTQ organizations from across the country are mourning O'Shae Sibley, the dancer who was fatally stabbed at a gas station in New York City over the weekend.
Sibley, 28, a North Philadelphia native living in Brooklyn, was dancing to Beyoncé's music with friends just a few blocks from his home on Saturday night when they were approached by a group of men who told them to stop dancing. Friends have said that Sibley was vogueing, a style of dance popularized in the LGBTQ ballroom scene. The argument escalated, with the men using anti-LGBTQ slurs, and Sibley confronted them before being stabbed, the New York Times reported.
A professional dancer, Sibley got his start at Philadanco, a West Philadelphia dance company committed to preserving the legacy and traditions of African American dance, when he was 14 years old. He remained there until his early 20s, when he moved to New York City for more opportunities, his aunt, Tondra Sibley, told the New York Times.
"Philadanco would like to send our sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of O'Shae Sibley," the dance company wrote on Instagram. "O'Shae was a student at the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts at Philadanco since the age of 14 and was also in our apprentice company D/2. This news is absolutely heartbreaking and we believe no one deserves to be targeted for simply being themselves and living in their truth. We are keeping high hopes that justice will be served. He will be missed dearly. We ask that you also keep his family and loved ones in your prayers."
During his time in New York, Sibley performed with an all-queer dance group at Lincoln Center and at Ailey Extension, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Foundation's dance studio. Sibley's friend, choreographer Kemar Jewel, worked with him for more than a decade and told the New York Daily News that Sibley had a passion for "mixing dance with advocacy." The two met in Philly and worked together on a handful of projects, including "Soft: A Love Letter to Black Queer Men," which Jewel released in 2021.
"He was really good at adding ballet stuff to a tap number or voguing to a hip-hop number," Jewel told the Daily News. "You probably can find dancers who are versatile, but you won't always find dancers that are good at mixing styles seamlessly."
On Facebook, Ailey Extension expressed its condolences to Sibley's family, calling him a "cherished and devoted" student who was loved by his instructors and fellow classmates.
Sibley's death is being investigated by the New York Police Department as a possible hate crime, CBS Philadelphia reported. No arrests have been made. Police said they are looking for a young man in his late teens. The fatal stabbing has prompted calls for justice, including from GLAAD, which released a statement urging media organizations to "challenge harmful rhetoric" pushed by politicians about LGBTQ issues.
One of Sibley's friends, Otis Pena, filmed much of their night out on Facebook Live and attempted to help stop Sibley from bleeding after he was stabbed. In a separate Facebook video posted several hours after Sibley was pronounced dead, Pena claimed that Sibley was killed because he was gay, saying that "His name was O'Shae and you all killed him. You all murdered him right in front of me."
Sibley's friends told police that they were listening to music from Beyoncé's "Renaissance," an album celebrating Black queer culture. Following the news of his death, Beyonce honored Sibley by posting a "rest in power" message on the top of her website.
"O'Shae Sibley had the audacity to live without the restraints of patriarchy and toxic masculinity, embracing freedom and joy," Darian Aaron, GLAAD's director of local news, said. "He should still be alive to celebrate all that made him great and inspired others to live their truth."
A GoFundMe organized by Sibley's father, Jake Kelly, had gained more than $32,000 in donations as of Wednesday morning. Some of the donations are from LGBTQ organizations from around the country, with more than 1,000 donors expressing their condolences and calling for justice.