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The Euro ballroom scene: when voguing came to town

The stylised dance routines of New Yorks gay subculture have made their way to the continent, from Sweden to Estonia, captured in all their theatricality by British grime photographer Ewen Spencer

When Lasseindra Ninja, a French-born veteran of the New York ballroom scene, first came to vogue in European competitions, she noticed one key difference among her fellow dancers.

I was surprised to see [cis] women, she says. I was surprised to see them trying to do vogue femme. My style is vogue femme. It is the dance of the transsexual.

Ewen

Voguing and the associated culture of the gay black ballroom scene where dancers from different groups or houses compete in a wide variety of highly stylised dance routines first came to prominence in the late 80s and early 90s, via Malcolm McLarens 1989 single Deep in Vogue, Madonnas 1990 hit Vogue, and Jennie Livingstons 1990 documentary Paris IsBurning.

Ewen

Less astute followers of club culture might have assumed that, soon after its rise, the scene would fade into obscurity. Yet Lasseindra says a more recent cultural phenomenon has helped this 20th-century dance style still popular in New York flourish on the far side of the Atlantic.

People in Europe got to know voguing via YouTube, she says. YouTube started in 2005, I returned to Paris in 2006, and by 2007-8 there you were seeing it in European street dance competitions.

Ewen

Voguing did not transfer from North America entirely unaltered. Events are more mixed in Europe, both racially and sexually, and some of the finer cultural delineations have been blurred. Lasseindra remembers that, during her first few competition, held in Switzerland, voguing was put in same category as waacking, another dance from US gay subculture, which may look similar to the uneducated viewer,but is, she says, entirely different.

Waacking is west coast, its disco and funk and it draws from movies, from Hollywood, she explains. Voguing is from New York, its more house and fashion.

Ewen

Over the past seven years, Lasseindra and her fellow voguers have helped educate European audiences, and establish a distinctly European take on the ballroom culture.

British photographer Ewen Spencer, best known for his award-winning coverage of the UK garage and grime scene, has documented these events in his latest book, Bring, Come, Punish. Spencer travelled to Berlin, Stockholm, Tallinn and Rotterdam to photograph dancers, after seeing footage from a Swedish event on a colleagues phone.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/may/01/voguing-dance-new-york-gay-subculture

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