Originating in the 60s by outcast LGBT minorities, rising in the Harlem ballroom scene in the 80s, blowing up in the 90s thanks to the aptly-titled Madonna song, and spawning its own documentary Paris Is Burning; Voguing is a style of dance created to celebrate homosexual freedom.
A subsect of Ball Culture, Voguing was titled after one of its inspirations, Vogue magazine. This was due to the utilisation of model-like poses integrated with angular, linear, and rigid arm, leg, and body movements.
This style of dance was created in New York by young gay men in the early 1960s, predominantly the black and latin minorities who were thrown out of their homes, and cut off from their families.
Feeling ostracised from society, these kids congregated on the streets of Harlem, where they created their own families under a presiding ‘drag mother’. Each mother headed their own ‘house’ of misfits, whom carved out their niche in society with a culture, language, and dance exclusive to themselves.
It is through this self-created culture that voguing was born. In the vein of dance-offs, voguing was an overly-dramatic battle of body movement using the expression of ones dance moves rather than violence. The dance embraced femininity, and celebrated homosexuality in every form.
An ode to wealthy white women that these kids idolised as glamorous, they would emulate models and socialites by performing exaggerated poses that they saw in magazines, and the way in which shoppers acted on Fifth Avenue, strung together to dance music.
Expressing their charisma and showmanship allowed the oppressed minority to escape their low standing position in society and celebrate their individuality and beauty.
There are currently three distinct styles of vogue: Old Way (pre-1990); New Way (post-1990); and Vogue Fem (circa 1995). Old and new way are generational, meaning in years to come as the dance evolves new way will slip into old way. Vogue fem is a catch-all phrase that has been present since before its official inception in ’95.
Old Way is the ‘original’ form of voguing which is identified as a series of clearly defined poses. True to its name the performer would strike poses in succession as if being photographed by a camera. The movements would take influence from high fashion, martial arts, and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Vicinital dance styles of breaking and popping was also incorporated into this wave.
This style can be characterised by the precision in execution of lines, symmetry, and grace of fluid actions. It was originally a duel between two rivals, in which one must “pin” the other to win the contest. Pinning would involve trapping an opponent so that he or she could not execute any more movements while the adversary was still in motion.
Adapted from the much more subdued old way style of voguing, new way stepped things up with more rigid movements including “clicks” – the contortion of limbs at the joints – and “arms control” – illusion created with the hands and wrists.
This style can be identified as a mime-like dancing, creating images using geometric shapes, and continuing the motion through the participants body to display their dexterity and memory. It involves much more flexibility, and is often performed to a higher speed.
Perhaps the most recognisable style of vogue in recent days, this style incorporates fluidity to its most extreme. An exaggeration of feminine movement, vogue femme incorporates a much wider range of movement. The style of dance incorporates everything from dramatics, which emphasises stunts, tricks, and speed to Soft, which focuses on grace, beauty, easy flow and flow continuations.
There are five elements of Vogue Fem: hand performance, catwalk, duckwalk, floor performance, and dips & drops. In professional Voguing battles and displays, the performer is judged on these five elements of Vogue and must showcase all elements in an entertaining fashion.
What began on the streets of the east coast was soon inducted into an underground social setting where vogue battles were monitored into actual competition. The houses of LGBT people would perform for judges in several categories including dance, in hopes of winning a trophy for their efforts.
The houses with the most success would earn bragging rights and score prestige among their peers. One such instance of this is ‘The House of Ninja’ which was initially founded by Willi Ninja, who is considered the godfather of voguing.
The ballroom is where young hopefuls would demonstrate their skill in a nurturing and supportive environment to the participants. The formation of ballroom culture provided a place in society for the young outcasts to flourish, the dance grew as young dancers trained to master the moves and techniques of their teachers in addition to creating new and innovative moves and tricks to give them a competitive advantage.
Through her pop song ‘Vogue’ in 1990, the underground dance became a cultural phenomenon. The public embraced voguing as the newest popular fad which lead to a market for voguing in the commercial entertainment world. Madonna allowed voguing to become widely appreciated, and well-known, as well as assisting those who mastered the art such as Ninja to become choreographers, dancers, and modelling coaches.
Conversely, a section of the community felt as though she was exploiting their art for commercial success, while those who had originally mastered the dance and found solace in the ballrooms were left empty. The power of their movement was erased, and the context was shifted from a celebration of black and latin queers to be for everybody. Voguing at this point had lost its meaning, the popularisation of the dance was watered down and stale. “It doesn’t matter if you’re black, or white; if you’re a boy, or a girl.”
With very noticable visuals, and an unmistakable style it is quite obvious that voguing influences many popular artists in photography, videos, and live performance. Singers like FKA Twigs, Rihanna, and Solange Knowles all openly adapt the art form for their work, while Tyra Banks drafted in Ninja to teach her girls to pose on Top Model.
Vogue-centric dance studios have popped up around certain cities, and the nightclubs, and balls while fewer and far between are still active. While the queens are still voguing it is neither the underground collective of solidarity or the explosive phenomena it once was, however it is still a mainstay of society that is brought to the forefront now and again.