Do you know what Voguing is? Maybe you’ve heard of the popular Madonna song or you’ve (legally) gone out to a club and saw some co-ordinated dancers hitting the floor and busting some moves (is that what it’s still called?). Regardless of your answer, you probably don’t know where it originated from or, more importantly, who created the dance sensation. This leads me to my “What’s creative…?” topic: NYC Ball Culture! Get excited because chances are you’ve never seen anything like these men and women before.
Are you a fan of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros? Perhaps you’ve seen the band’s music video for Better Days (a great song)? If you have then you’ve seen clips from a great documentary called “Paris is Burning”. The short film depicts the lives of drag queens and gender queer individuals who live in New York City during the AIDS epidemic. Not to completely spoil the whole thing for you, the film is melancholy and truly highlights the struggles that the men and women of that time had to deal with. For every up there seemed to be at least two downs and they were constantly faced with a society that just wasn’t quite ready to embrace them for the individual that they were. However, sometimes late in the night and very early in the mornings, these individuals got to fully express themselves at balls and this is what is creative.
You’ll hear many of the men talk about how they have no money and what cash they do get for working almost always goes towards looking fabulous at the balls. These women and men would come together in drag and would compete for glory. Often times they would be part of families or groups in which the members would financially, emotionally, and physically support one another. The mother of the house would give advice and often provide for the younger members of the house as they were cast out from their family homes or as they struggled with their identities.
I don’t want to spoil anything too much because I strongly, strongly encourage everyone to watch this documentary (it’s on Netflix!!!), but I must highlight a few things. The outfits! These queens drew inspiration from the most mundane things and were able to change simple things like a T-shirt or a garbage bag into the most beautiful pieces of clothing you’ve ever seen. The dances and movements. Gardner talks a lot about bodily kinesthetic movement and the creativity behind it, but the queens of New York created a style of dance that is used in hip-hop, modern dance, modeling, and fashion today. Voguing (if I can cast my vote) is one of the creative things to come out of ball culture. It involves swift movements, posing, freezing, looking glamorous, and out shining your competition all in one dance. It was often performed as a kind of turf war between different houses in what any of the queens likened to “gang wars”. Check it out. You have my permission.
- Livingston, Jennie, Pepper Labeija, Kim Pendavis, Freddie Pendavis, Dorian Corey, Venus Xtravaganza, Willi Ninja, and Laurent O. St. Paris Is Burning. United States: Fox Lorber Home Video, 1992.