In case you haven’t heard, Vogueing is back. Madonna brought it to the mainstream, sealing the 80’s sloppy fate with classic club anthems ushering in a whole new breed of contemporary social dance. Yet, this again was an appropriation of Black sub-culture, in this case queer. Indeed, Vogueing is as old as Betty Davis and as American as apple pie, shown even with a quick perusal of the docu-films ‘Looking for Langston’, or even the voyeuristic ‘Paris is Burning’. More interesting, perhaps, or at least speaking from a more liberated voice, would be the 2006 film ‘How Do I Look’. At any rate, Jody Watley made it hot on the charts back in 1987, three years before Madonna, with one of Prince’s bassist Andre Simone’s most fly guitar rifts and synthesized melismatic beats, Still a Thrill. The normally high-pitched diva adopted an androgynous baritone voice for the lyrics, teasing viewers even more. The video was off the chain, and yes, an early dose of this black-n-tan boy ‘House’ dancing. How appropriate that Watley chose a Parisian style ballroom set for the video, and one of the genre’s early champions, Tyron “The Bone” Proctor, as her co-star.
You betta work/Sashay/Chanté
YouTubing “Vogue,” the more recent term “Waacking,” or “J-Sette,” as it seems to be called in the South, will reveal a whole host a young divas strutting in clubs, but more likely are Black pride celebrations in Dallas, Memphis, Atlanta, Montgomery or even DC in the upper South. Feedback in this area would be greatly appreciated, as too little is written about this marvelous genre of ballroom dancing. Plenty of young divas are generous enough to record and upload rehearsals, so viewers get a real picture of how each buck- a set of steps- is constructed, and can learn on their own. Now, look at any of this and dare not see the choreography in Beyoncé’s video Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).
As seen in B.’s video, J-setting already incorporated the call and response dance, with the leader demonstrating, then the others stepping in without missing a beat, and sometimes doing so in cannon. Seeing the leader step forth reminds one of a dancer in the classic Indian form of Kathak would sing the drummers the beat he intended to step to, let them mimic it, then take off twirling in his long skirt. In the Single Ladies video we see the outstretched arms, powerful kicks, aggressive poses, flashy yet firm hips. This is all a lovely peacock dance- a show of strength, stamina, discipline and agility. It only fits on bodies that have been somehow queered. Hence, seeing a Madonna or a Beyoncé acting rather manly, striking strong, fierce poses, like the near seven foot Black blond drag queen, RuPaul, marching down the runway in those heels- it’s the titillation of the masculine and the feminine, of which Beyoncé takes well advantage in her imagery, and elsewhere even in her lyrics, e.g. If I were a boy.
Further evidence would be the number of young queens around the globe that so easily learned Single Ladies’ complicated choreography beat for beat. And no doubt it’s hard- the steps switch rigorously between the song’s competing beats and the diva’s singing treats. Yet, these moves all come from this genre, and these young divas don’t miss any beat. Hence, to show up in a small town gay bar and have the DJ spin the song at least thrice per night, and eventually even call all young divas to compete on the stage to please the crowd is beyond phenomenal. Seeing these moves come home confirms that they’ve always been the source of B.’s latest trends. This pop diva has managed an effective way of reproducing stardom, like Madonna, mining our dance floors, hiring us sissies to teach them how to assert their masculinity and femininity at the same time. Hence, this is hustling, as B. already presupposed. Besides, many queens had long since already weft tight weaves like that worn in Sasha Fierce’s hair- hair from the heads of other women, in south India for example, shaving their heads clean as a sign of devotion. Others swear that one of the two back-up dancers is gender-queer. If true, this, too, would be most appropriate for the occasion.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.