We can thank Madonna for bringing vogueing to the mainstream, and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival with Red Bull Music for bringing it to Sydney via its inaugural Sissy Ball.
“Vogueing is a dance style and living culture born out of the Harlem drag circuit of the 1920s, largely defined as ‘ballroom’,” says Sydney-based interdisciplinary artist Bhenji Ra, Sissy Ball’s curator. “Vogueing itself has had many evolutions since its beginnings but now is widely known for its dramatic and virtuosic style and its importance to queer people of colour around the world.”
If you don't know what vogueing is, think flamboyant hands, flying limbs, pouty faces and hips moved with attitude. "I saw things I never saw before," said David Byrne, singer songwriter for Talking Heads, after viewing a voguing battle in 1989.
Participants (or in ballroom parlance, “houses”) include Slé, Coven, House of Envy and New Zealand’s Faf Swag, a LGBQT arts collective that was part of a Vice documentary on Auckland's underground vogue scene. They will be judged in one of five categories: hand performance (telling a story through hand articulation); runway (dancers are rated on strutting the runway in national/cultural costume), face; sex siren (a celebration of body confidence); and vogue fem (this is the dance battle component). Voguers choose the category they want to compete in; it’s about showcasing their individuality, agility and style.
Acclaimed New York-based choreographer Leiomy – who is known for her choreography work with FKA Twigs and Willow Smith for her Whip My Hair song – will judge the battle. Joining her will be New York MC and back-up dancer for Rihanna, MC Dashaun, who'll offer commentary on the night.
The evening’s soundtrack will come from artists and DJs who are making a non-conventional mark in the music space: New Jersey’s MikeQ; Australian electronic story-telling duo Electric Fields; New York-based rapper Quay Dash; and South African artist Angel-Ho.
MikeQ is one of the leading figures of the East Coast’s long-running ballroom/vogue-house scene, and is known for his hyper-kinetic energy and for redefining classic ballroom beats.
“Ballroom culture has exploded around the world due to online sharing and shows like RuPaul's Drag Race,” says curator Bhenji Ra. “I feel like the dance style and its function is still growing among cultures around the world but has somehow found its home in places and communities that also [identify] with the history and struggle of ballroom, such as the rapidly growing LGBTQI Auckland vogue scene.”
Sissy Ball is on Saturday February 24 at Carriageworks from 5pm. Second-release tickets are available here.
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