Self-expression or Voguing

Author: Tamta Mazanashvili

Translated by: Elene Gureshidze

Voguing is a dance expressed by the most peculiar and non-realistic style, the roots of which can be found in the 1980s New York.

It is believed that up until 1960s the queer life did not exist publicly. Therefore, the LGBTQ+ community lived in invisibility and isolation. Their only refuge were salons and parties. It was these settings, where LGBTQ+ people found their proper place. People respected not only the way they were but they also celebrated their existence, just as they would celebrate other individuals’ lives. One of the most famous asylums for these people turned out to be New York, specifically, Harlem (Manhattan district).

For many years, Harlem remained the epicenter of the LBGTQ+ art, activism and culture. Consequently, it is logical that is was this place that was a birthplace of vogue. Specifically, it was created by the African-American and Latin people representing the LGBTQ+ community. Soon, voguing appeared at the classical and refined parties, which was the best appropriate place for self-expression. The ballroom scene encompassed different types of arrangements, whose participants competed for prize, titles and reputation. It is worth mentioning that dancing acquired its movements and poses form the ancient Egyptian arts and hieroglyphics, while hand gestures were created by the mere interpretation of the dancer’s themselves. The aim of the act was to retell the story and represent different performances that respected the people of different gender and sexual orientation.

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What was the main aim of the dance? Voguing enabled drag artists to prove that every gender is a performance itself. To prove their ideas, they put on makeup, carried peculiar hairstyles and wore extravagant, idiosyncratic clothes. However, this dance had another function. The performance was used to create an atmosphere that would be replete with respect, solidarity and empathy. Ultimately, this kind of atmosphere would be used to solve critical problems as, based on certain beliefs, voguing poses and pantomimes enabled the dancers to read and feel each other.

photo by Out at St. Paul

The interesting characteristic about vogue is that it has not always remained monolithic and static. In the 1980s it reflected a transformation. At first, we could see more rough and fleeting movements that demanded straight lines. However, in the late 80s, the movements became more coarse which can be identified by “limb clicks” and “arms control”. This variant of the dance entailed geometrical figures that were personified. Therefore, the new mode of self-expression demanded extraordinary flexibility.

In 1995 a new modified variant, “vogue fem” emerged. Thit time the movements acquired a feminine form which was influenced by ballet and jazz. The dance now encompassed the elements, such as, the catwalk, duckwalk, twist and turn and hand movements. Therefore, it acquired a much more expressive dimension.

Jenny Livingstone in her documentary, “Paris is burning”, vividly and realistically represents the story of voguing. This movie is sort of a filmographic portrait of the 1980s New York parties and displays the difficulties that people had to endure because of their gender, social class, race or sexual orientation. The movie can be considered as an invaluable documentary history of the LGBTQ+ community.

It should be noted here that the most distinct dance reached the peak of attention in 1990 when a cult pop singer Madonna released a new song named “vogue”. In the video clip she depicted the voguing movements. Because of her depiction, she had to endure a wave of criticism, since it was believed that Madonna had appropriated this culture. In addition, all the famous people mentioned in the song are white, including Madonna herself. Therefore, critics accused her of erasing the origins and idea of this culture.

Unfortunately, issues of race, orientation and gender are still complex topics around which many disputes exist. Vogue dancers still try to defend their position with their expressions and different movements and show us that they are full members of our society. Voguing traditions are still preserved in this society and it assumes being the most tolerant and expressive. The modern form of dance discussed here is still evolving both in terms of style and distribution.