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Gay Times August 08 - Issue 359

Strike A Pose

Top DJ and fellow-that-is-in-the-mood Luke Howard makes the case for vogueing being the first truly gay sport

Vogueing as sport? An unusual proposition. But look closer at the fierce competitiveness of contemporary vogueing and the culture of the ballroom communities in the US that surround the vogue ball scene. It’s not such a remarkable proposal, is it? If sport is defined as an active pastime requiring physical skill and competitiveness, vogueing fits the bill
Vogueing first came to light via Jennie Livingston’s celebrated documentary film Paris Is Burning in the early 1990s. The film shone a light on the balls held in New York where contestants – mostly black and Latino gay men, drag queens and MTF transsexuals – competed for trophies by battling it out on the catwalk to see who was the fiercest or realest [sic] in categories such as Butch Queen First Time In Drag at a Ball, Schoolgirl/boy Realness, High Fashion Parisian and Femme Realness.
Drag balls had been around since the days of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and they flourished during the 1980s when categories for walking (entering) a ball opened up to include not just traditional high-glamour drag queens and gender illusionists, but more informal looks where passing as a woman in daywear or a male executive became the aim.
From the category known as Presentation or Performance came the new dance style: contestants would work their way down the runway, to the beat of Disco or House music, making a series of quick geometrical patterns with their arms and hands to strike poses as in a fashion photo shoot – hence the name Vogue. As vogueing evolved it became an important category in its own right, and vogue battles between two contestants would become highlights of the balls. The communities that formed around the balls divided themselves into houses, gay family-type gangs consisting of a ‘Mother’ and a ‘Father’, the founders of the house, who gave their name – or a famous designer’s name – to the house. Famous houses of the 1980s were Ebony, Omni, Chanel, Pendavis, Princess, Labeija, Dupree, Xtravaganza, Ninja and Corey.
After the hype surrounding vogueing in the early 90s, and Madonna’s appropriation of the dance, something extraordinary happened. Unlike break-dancing and body-popping, which went mainstream after their exposure to the world via Hip-Hop, vogueing, perhaps because it was just too defiantly gay, went back to the underground, where it became stronger than ever. Houses and balls sprang up in all the major urban areas of the US, with Washington DC, Philadelphia and Chicago plus areas of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana becoming important hubs.
A ‘new way’ of vogueing also began to be popularised around this time, with the category of Femme Queen Vogue becoming the arena for much of the New Way styles: wild head-spinning to prove you aren’t wearing a wig, the Duck Walk similar to a Russian Cossack dance done on the haunches and Suicide Dips, sometimes known as Makevelli, where contestants slam themselves onto the floor back-first, using a bent leg to support the fall. Cash prizes began to replace trophies for the winners of categories, and new houses such as Miyake Mugler, Mizrahi, Blahník, Balenciaga, Elegance and Enigma became the stars of the New Way vogue scene.
New Way vogue has a much more ferocious edge to it, although it does still retain parts of Old Way vogue, like Hand Performance – swirling of the hands around the head, arms, back and shoulders – and the Pop, Dip and Spin, which is essentially the art of vogueing from a standing position into horizontal floor work.
So what makes vogueing a sport? The competitiion means that it’s not just a performance-based dance form, such as Ballet. Unlike competition-based dances, such as ballroom, vogueing has elements of acrobatics, gymnastics and Brazilian capoeira that make it totally unique.
So why aren’t we recognising vogueing as the first truly gay sport by giving it a place at gay sporting events like the Gay Games or the Out Games? Personally, I don’t think vogueing needs to be involved in such events. As far as I can tell, these exist to facilitate a type of assimilation into the wider hetero world. Vogueing, however, celebrates its gay-ness and transgendered aspect in a much more genuine fashion. It is a brilliant, creative and cultural force that merits honouring and respecting, sport or not.

Check out Luke’s best of the web vogue recommendations

Catch Luke Howard’s set at Horse Meat Disco, Sundays at The Eagle, Kennington Lane, Vauxhall,

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