by Ellen Robinette
People slowly trickle into a studio of cream walls and golden wood floors. They either take a seat or begin stretching / moving about slowly. Chatter flows freely, a friendly air established. As more join the space, it feels like a performance in itself as people scatter in various locations and poses. Daniel Giron enters and assembles everyone in a circle for an icebreaker — asking for people to share their name, preferred pronouns, and why they are there. A range of answers are given; some people love voguing and the culture, or come from a dance background; some are a part of PICA and were curious, while others come with a history in the club scene, and even some to perform in the kiki ball that evening.
Giron is dressed in a black sleeveless tank, patterned 80’s muscle pants, tube socks, and a gold chain. His voice is warm, his body expressive as his hands and arms gesture about gracefully.
He gives a history of ballroom and vogueing, distinguishing the two by explaining their origins. The three styles practiced are Old Way, New Way, and Vogue Femme, which is Giron’s expertise. After, everyone is led through a group stretch starting with the neck, rolling out the shoulders and chest, and finally arms out and down into a yoga-like lunge. Music is playing, people begin responding to it with free form movements as they observe themselves in the large mirror extending the length of one wall.
Giron pauses the music and takes a moment to acknowledge the privilege to learn vogue; something born in the streets and from marginalized groups that is now learned in a structured environment. He encourages people to be informed, to check out growing resources available on the culture. Giron is careful to explain everything — from the breakdown of the body going through poses, to the history of the poses themselves. He stresses that moves need to be made with intention and identity.
Hand mechanics consist of circles, taps, and waves. As Giron introduces each one, he is mindful of the differing skills levels while cracking jokes to keep the atmosphere fun. The room is filled with beautiful ripple of synchronized arms. Everyone practices the various mechanics with quiet focus, only Giron’s voice sounds with instructions or encouragement. He explains that you use movements to form a narration, maybe tell about yourself. “That’s what you can play with, and then you can tell a story with it.”
Music on — people start to wiggle to find their groove, starting at the hips per Giron’s lead. Arms alternate between out and tapping the shoulders, first slow then double time. Expressions on people’s faces are of concentration mixed with joy of moving, learning, pride, and energy found being a part of a group. Smiles crack as people really start to get into it, then reset into serious focus as new moves are introduced. Now comes the catwalk. Giron demonstrates by moving forward, slightly crouched and on tip toes, popping out a hip with each step. The participants are instructed to line up on the back wall, opposite of the mirror. The line moves forward in unison, a wave of snapping legs and pointed feet, until they reach the mirror to turn around and catwalk back. Each passing lap brings more comfortability and confidence, individual personalities come forth. The group is then broken up into threes to walk, with immediate support in response from those observing through clapping, snapping, and whooping.
The next piece taught is the duckwalk, in which you sit in a low squat and pulse / move to the beat. As people navigate the new move, or opt to sit out, Giron proposes to see who can last the longest while duckwalking. He explains that competition often is where the real magic of vogueing can occur. After the last participant is left ‘standing’, a water break is called. Music is left on and people openly move about, practicing, feelin’ themselves. Giron encourages “If you’re having fun with it, you’re doing it”.
Moving on to floorwork, which utilizes all of the body on the ground, Giron pushes that this is experimental and to try out anything. He demonstrates a slide / dive move that is met with a mix of confusion and laughter; people testing the boundaries of their body and mind. Giron notes that femme queens were also commonly sex workers, so you can see floorwork appear in other acts such as stripclubs. But floorwork is about confidence, not neccessarily sex appeal or being sexy, and he encourages to do what feels best. His demonstration of his personal floorwork style is met with ‘oos’ and cheers. Music on — the floor is open for free practice and a medley of different movements transpire. They are free yet calculated, again returning to that mix of focus and playfulness.
Lastly are dips, the sudden drop people are often familiar with in vogueing. Giron teaches them how to safely go about the move, gradually from standing to deep squat, a pivot, then lowering the rest of the body down with one leg and arms extended. People follow, cautiously but determined to reach the full dip. Once everyone is down, someone asks “How do you get up?” — to which another responds, “You never get up”. Giron is careful to show many variants / modifications to the move to have it be accessible. In the few remaining minutes people drop into their dips, and eventually it melts into movements encompassing the entire lesson. People are tired, but still eager to push on and continue expressing themselves through their newly learned vogueing practice.