voguing it into the mainstream

The LGBTQ community and voguing

4 minutes to read
Article
Heleen Dijkhuizen
27/03/2017

There is a clear connection between the LGBTQ community and voguing; however, this connection has changed over the years. 

The anthropologist Appadurai (1996) proposed a theory about how globalization can create transnational cultural scapes. These scapes create convergence in global culture, emerge in global patterns of cultural and social behavior and generate new dynamics of global and local culture. It is a term that is used to describe how a cultural phenomenon from a specific time and specific place transforms into a global phenomenon due to globalization. However, the global culture will still have distinctive features from the local culture. Appadurai’s theoretical framework will be used for analyzing the connection between the LGBTQ community and voguing and the changes that appeared in this connection over the years.

The roots of voguing in the ballroom culture

As indicated above, the LGBTQ community has played a vital role in the creation of voguing and the ballroom culture (Bailey, 2011). Often these young people were not accepted in the environment they grew up in because their gender or sexual identity did not fit in their heteronormative environment. As a result, they became a member of the ballroom community. 

The ballroom houses offered a non-heteronormative environment where people could express their own sexual and gender identities. They were accepted for who they were and found a welcoming new home (Arnold & Bailey, 2009). At the balls, the queer members of the houses found an outlet in the dance. The competitive aspect of voguing gave the dancers a sense of worth, which they possibly lacked in the real world. It was a way of expressing who they were without being judged. The family structure of the houses gave them a new home and a sense of belonging (Connolly, 2013).

 

Shift to the public

The 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning put a spotlight on the ballroom culture and its extravagant and gender-fluid members. It focuses very much on how the ballroom community was a safe space for queer people.

Figure 6: From left to right: Jose Xtravaganza, Salim Gauwloos, Madonna, and Luis Xtravaganza.

When Madonna came out with her single "Vogue" in 1990, she showed the mainstream what voguing was. She cast seven dancers who would appear in the music video and dance with her on her legendary Blond Ambition Tour. Six of them were gay and one was straight. 

In the documentary Strike a Pose, the latter, Oliver Crumes, even said that his homophobic viewpoint changed after he went on tour with Madonna and the other dancers: “I went from homophobic to loving everybody” (Gould & Zwaan, 2016). Madonna’s world tour focused on being yourself and expressing who you are. She was seen as a fighter for the LGBTQ community and AIDS/HIV awareness.

 

'I went from homophobic to loving everybody.'

One of the most well-known houses in the ballroom community it the legendary House of Xtravaganza. Its members appear dancing and giving interviews in the documentary Paris Is Burning. Two of the dancers of this house, Father Jose Gutierez Xtravaganza and Luis Xtravaganza Camacho were cast as dancers for Madonna. They danced in her music video and were her background dancers on her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990. It is interesting to see that two members of the ballroom community helped in part to make voguing more public.

These two examples show how voguing shifted from being a dance that was strictly part of an underground gay subculture to a globally known phenomenon that was less connected to the LGBTQ community.

 

Voguing as a mainstream dance

Until this day, the ballroom culture still exists. It has spread around the world and ballroom houses can be found on a global level. Because of its historical roots, the LGBTQ community is completely woven into the ballroom culture and has left a mark on voguing as well. The dancing aspect of voguing however, has split from the whole ballroom culture. Self-expression is still a big part of the dance, but it is not as strictly connected to the LGBTQ community as before. Outside of the ballroom community it is ‘just’ seen as a mainstream dance.

If you search for YouTube videos on voguing, you can find a lot of results that are not necessarily related to the LGBTQ community, such as a viral video of two Japanese girls taking their own take on voguing (MOVEtoINSPIRE, 2014). It is possible to take voguing lessons at dance schools or learn it yourself via YouTube videos.

 

Voguing as a culturescape

Until the beginning of the 1990s, voguing was just part of an underground LGBTQ community, the ballroom culture. After the documentary Paris Is Burning and because of the influence of Madonna, the dance became known to the greater public. As of today, voguing itself can be seen as a mainstream dance style, from which the true history and meaning is only known by the still existing ballroom culture. Because of the way that voguing went from an iconic gay dance in an underground LGBTQ community to a worldwide accepted dance, we can speak of a culture scape. As one of the voguers in the short documentary Voguing: The Message said: “Voguing isn’t a gay dance. It’s a talented dance. And it is a dance that the whole of the world should know”  (Walworth, Bronstein, & Low, 1989).

 

References

Appadurai, A. (1996). Modernity at large: cultural dimensions of globalization. University of Minnesota Press.

Bailey, E. A. (2009, April 23). Constructing Home and Family: How the Ballroom Community Supports African American GLBTQ Youth in the Face of HIV/AIDS. Retrieved November 30, 2016, from NCBI.

Bailey, M. M. (2011). Gender/Racial Realness: Theorizing the Gender System in Ballroom Culture. Feminist Studies, 37(2), 365-386. Retrieved November 27, 2016.

Connolly, N. (2013, March 6). Welcome to the Ballroom, where Voguing is always in style. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from Boingboing. 

Gould, E., & Zwaan, R. (Directors). (2016). Strike a pose [Motion Picture].

MOVEtoINSPIRE. (2014, December 29). Aya Sato Workshop at IZUMI COMPNY. Retrieved November 29, 2016.

Walworth, J., Bronstein, D., & Low, D. (Directors). (1989). Voguing: The Message [Motion Picture]. Retrieved November 27, 2016.