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Bring it like a superhero: London's vogue scene is rising

Ballroom culture is thriving in the UK capital

  • Words: Alex Macpherson | Images: David Morrison
  • 31 March 2016
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Moreover, many of today’s voguers are aware that their own introduction to the culture came courtesy of mainstream appropriation such as Madonna’s ‘Vogue’, which is the first time divaD witnessed it. “That can put it in the centre where people actually get to see it,” she says. “But the bad thing is when it goes mainstream and it isn't taken seriously, or not looked at or done the way it should be. It's not something you'll find in a class or by learning choreography, it's something you have to find within yourself. Go to a club, connect with the music, connect with the people and let go, let it all out.” D’relle, meanwhile, shades Madonna slightly when, after hemming and hawing, he finally describes her voguing as “slightly rigid”. But he treasures the memory of performing ‘Vogue’ for her in person as a birthday present in 2012. “She’s a lovely and humble person - I thought it was a hoax until literally seeing her,” he says. These days, he sees mainstream interest as an opportunity – as long as mainstream institutions give credit where it’s due. “I hope it opens doors, because there are so many talented dancers, MCs, fashion designers and make-up artists who are, for some weird reason, limited to the ballroom scene,” he says. The signs are good. Of FKA Twigs, D’relle points out that she hasn’t just incorporated dance moves and style into her own work, but “she’s also gone to vogue nights and is learning her craft properly”. Meanwhile, Cvnt Traxx is confident that the essence of the culture will remain its driving force: “The future of ballroom is always going to remain ballroom, because it's part of this wider culture that's not just music, it's social and political. Even if ballroom gets popular, even if a really mainstream artist picks it up and it has 15 minutes in the sun, it's still not going to change the roots of the culture.”

Everyone involved in the London scene is keen to emphasise that while the original vogue scene provided community and surrogate families for the most marginalised people in society coming together through sheer necessity, their own situation isn’t comparable. “In America it was all people had, whereas the UK has its own strong queer history and identity - voguing is coming here already well developed, so you see a broader social spectrum getting involved,” says Cvnt Traxxx, who points out that while Manchester vogue is strongly linked to the drag scene, in Liverpool its slicker aspects are influenced more by the city’s six dance schools.

But that’s not to say it doesn’t serve a similar social purpose, even now. “Being black and gay in this country is… Well, it’s OK sometimes,” sighs Harli. “But sometimes you feel like there’s nothing for you besides r’n’b and hip hop nights. It was amazing to find something I could connect to - being black and gay and not having to worry about anything in that particular moment.” Benjamin Milan speaks about the straight women who attend his classes expressing their sexuality in a way that they hadn’t been able to do outside of voguing, and divaD says that the type of people who end up showing a dedication to the culture beyond showing up at a weekly class tend to be “people who feel left out, who feel segregated, who don’t feel loved or appreciated, who come from a negative area - and who feel a bond with the mother/father/children house culture”.

Hearing Jay Jay Revlon enthuse about his plans to develop a ballroom scene with a British identity, it's clear that making dreams real can extend outside the dancefloor. He's reverent of the history of the culture, but willing to give it a twist: the inclusion of waacking, a dance form related to but technically not part of voguing, caused minor controversy at Twisted Love Affair, but, as he points, out, "The reason I did it is because we have waackers - let them waack! You have to bring them in, you can't keep them out." He's also looking out for ways to add more representation in traditional areas, such as dramatics and serving face, as well as bringing the trans community in. He visualises balls themed around "the Spice Girls, David Bowie, sausages and mash" to add a British twist to traditions. "We're writing history for London," he declares. "The vogue scene here died out and now it's back."

Alex Macpherson is a freelance journalist, follow him on Twitter

Forthcoming vogue events in Europe in April and May: Opulence Ball in Bologne, The Héros World Mini Ball in Paris, Tit Bit Ball in Berlin, Spicy Sweet Ball in Madrid, The Honey Bee Ball in Paris, Italian Spring Ball in Milan, WorldWideNation Ball in Paris

Special thanks to Jay Jay Revlon, David Morrison and Samantha at Hub 16

All images taken at the Inspiration Mini Ball at Hub 16. Hub 16 is a DIY space in Dalston that hosts a range of events and workshops lead by the local community. Click here to make a donation

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