Club spaces have often been environments that foster social change. This is where unlikely people come together to provide a sanctuary from the outside world, and dance floors become community. This is a truth well known to members of the Vogue and Kiki community, and to the dancers at the incredible Ballroom Symposium where this footage was shot by documentary maker Anja Matthes.
Hailing from New York, Kiki is the youth-driven faction of Vogue culture, which is inspiring a new generation of LGBTQ people of colour to create communities in and out of the dance. For people involved in the scene, Vogue and Kiki provides a safe space to discuss issues that range from HIV and AIDS, to unemployment and homelessness. It does this by providing real help from community organisers in the scene, and ‘house mothers’ - stand-in mentors who build relationships with dancers as part of a dancing ‘house’ or group, by handing out leaflets on safe sex, helping to fill out housing applications, supporting young people on their way to getting an education, acting as references for jobs, and mobilising to protest discrimination.
House mother Twiggy Pucci Garçon works closely with organisations like the True Colors Fund, which aims to end homelessness in the LGBTQ community, alongside giving collaborative opportunities, training and education. The background of Kiki, beyond the balls and thrill of the dancing is a network of socially responsible mentors and activists trying to elevate their community with skills, opportunities and love.
Whether this generation are empowering themselves via finding a space to dance their way, on their own terms, being able to create a family support system that they may be lacking, or by seeking real, tangible advice for logistical problems, Kiki enables people to rise up, together.
Derek ‘Jamel Prodigy’ Auguste is a lynchpin of New York’s Ballroom scene who has been voguing for over a decade. Hailing from Harlem, he uses art and dance as a way to uplift his community and his career has seen him most recently choreograph for FKA Twigs, teaching her the elements of Vogue. He tells us how Vogue helped him see himself and how Kiki is taking it to the next level.
I’ve been Voguing for over 15 years. I started because I was smaller, femme and it was very hard hip hop at that time. So I couldn’t find placement as a commercial industry dancer, and then I couldn’t do lifts in ballet so I trained in modern, jazz and modern, tap. I stopped dancing then and started voguing at 17/18.
There are five elements of vogue. The catwalk, which is a travelling move that you use it to sashay and walk and pass the girls. The spins, which are dainty swirls of fast dramatic spins. The duck walk, where you crouch and get down low. Hand performance, which is the basis of vogue: it’s your stylus, your pencil, what are you telling? It’s your story. And dips, which are closing frames where you back smack the floor.
Vogue is art, vogue is our lives. You don’t know what stories your body can tell until you’ve been to a ball. When you go to a dance club, I’m a firm believer that you should not leave the club the same way you came in – you should be sweating.
The best way to find yourself is to do everything that you think you can’t. That’s what Vogue does to you on the dancefloor … and if you’re limping? Well, girl, you better conceal that until you’re out of the circle!
Now the Hamptons are voguing, and we’ve been Voguing on the pier, for years! Yesterday, you didn’t see it but today, because Sarah over in the suburbs is doing it now, it’s the fab thing. That’s what appropriation looks like.
Our community getting paid is what makes me happy, being seen as artists, and creatives and professionals. Brands value it, they include music and voguing in their videos, and it’s giving kids jobs. Vogue taught me that I had a craft worth paying for. Fuck exposure, bitch! The new generation of Voguers, doing Kiki are pushing the culture and community forward. and you see them and think, “Yaaas, look at this beautiful black and brown excellence!’