Vogue femme as affective anti-oppression education
In tills chapter I will reflect on the ways that artist-educators and young people with LGBTQ2S+1 parents collaboratively engaged in a voguing dance workshop during an applied theatre research project The research had two points of focus: the first was to explore how youth and artist-educators used theatre to collaboratively learn about themselves, each other, and the world around them; and die second was to unpack how young people from LGBTQ2S+ families used theatre and performance as a form of advocacy by sharing their stories and experiences through dieir artwork Working with artist-educators and youth, this research explored the interpersonal and relational aspects of dieatre creation by facilitating affective encounters dirough aesdietic arts-based learning. What follow s is an analysis of die possibilities of applied dieatre work, and specifically vogue femme dance, to support youdi from LGBTQ2S+ families in challenging heteronormative2 and cls-normative5 embodiments. I begin with a brief introducrion to the dance form of vogue femme, including its histories, current practices, and die importance of teaching this uniquely queer and subversive art from to young people from LGBTQ2S+ families. I then review the theoretical and mediodological underpinnings of the research and position anti-oppression edu- cadon as an embodied and affective site of queer possibility. Finally, I explore how vogue femme as an affective and collaborative performance provided opportunities for youdi participants and artist-educators to reimagine their bodily horizons through embodied encounters with failure, die unknown, and the power of striking a pose.
Vogue femme with Twysted Miyake-Mugler
Voguing is a dance of survival for many queer and trails folx4 of colour (Jones, 2018). It is a way to tell one’s story through a relational and embodied emergence. For many, voguing is an outlet, a way to express oneself when societies expectations of who one should be feel too narrow (Livingston, 1990). Butler (1993) has argued that voguing can reinforce the gender binary through its categories of gender ‘realness’, and hooks (1992) has argued that voguing often glamorises the white ruling-class through its embedded affinity for stardom and spectacle. My argument here challenges these ideas by suggesting that voguing subverts gender, class, and race through its opening of embodied possibilities by asking the question: How can we move and live differently? Turning towards difference is a queer shift away from the status quo towards a reimagining of what is possible within a body’s ability to be and do. Therefore, I argue voguing does both/and: it reinforces and subverts within the same moment of performance. Performance understood in this way is distinct from performativity, because the former lies within the confines of artistic expression, which may or may not align to the way performativity works to discursively define bodies (Butler, 1990).
I first met dancer and workshop facilitator, Twysted Miyake-Mugle, as a youth participant in a filmmaking workshop I was facilitating for LGBTQ2S+ youth and seniors in Toronto. At the time, Twysted was interested in producing a Canadian version of the film, Paris is Burning (Livingston, 1990), which is a documentary film that chronicles ballroom culture, from which vogue femme emerged, in Newr York City in the 1980s. Twysted had the desire and passion to share the story of his ballroom community in Toronto, and to engage a wider audience in understanding the importance of chosen family, self-expression, and self-love for young queer and trans youth. In 2019, he was quoted in NOW Magazine saying, ‘What Toronto can take from ballroom is that we need to celebrate everyone’s differences and make everyone feel that they are celebrated. That’s what makes us special’ (Price, Simonpillai & Grier, 2019). Twysted’s bio states:
At the age of 16, he was introduced to an entirely new form of dance that embraced the femininity of black gay men, something he had never been exposed to before: the art of Vogue. Twysted began teaching himself how to vogue and connected with the international ballroom scene. He joined the Canadian House of Monroe as a founding member ... In January 2013, he was inducted into the NYC Iconic House of Miyake-Mugler as the First International member.
Given this embedded position within the community and his passion for this expressive practice, I turn to Twysted’s description of voguing, which he explained at the beginning of the workshop he facilitated for the group:
So, the style of dance that I usually leach, it is called voguing ... vogue is a really, really fun, expressive dance ... voguing started in the 1970s. It started as almost like a ‘pop and locking’, if you guys know break dancing. We do a lot of pop, pop, poppy movements. But ... instead of popping, like whatever, we pop from pose, to pose, to pose, and we set it up as trying to be like you are posing on a cover of a magazine ... which is why they call it voguing ... The thing about voguing is there is no correct way of voguing. You have your people that are more shy and you have your people that are more dramatic ... It all just goes by the way that you feel about yourself in the moment ... so, you can never really predict how it is going to turn out, right? ... and then throughout the 80s, you started seeing more of the trails women take on voguing and made it more feminine ... and they introduced vogue femme as we know it now with the pirouettes and the dips and stuff like that is because they took voguing to [a] feminine place ... today I am going to teach you guys a little bit about vogue femme ... I am going to keep it really simple but it is still going to be cute ....OK. So, um. 5 simple elements. (laughs) ... They might look hard, but when you do it, it is simple. Except for one of them. There is one element that is going to be a little hard...have an open mind. And, let’s do this.
(Video transcript, 15 March 2018)
Through Twysted’s introduction, it is clear that voguing is a queering of dance and of art. It is a subversive performance form that emerged from within queer and trans communities of colour as a way of expressing and subverting identity/ gender through playful movement. Twysted states that there is no right way to vogue and that one can never predict how it is going to turn out. Unlike traditional forms of dance where the outcomes and moves are predicted and expected, Voguing is about being in a constant stale of becoming; to vogue is to become (Ellsworth, 2005). The movements, sequences, and poses are relational to the other performers, and to the audience. To strike a pose, even within a structured choreography, is unpredictable because it is a personal expression of how one feels in that moment.
The affective and collaborative performance of vogue is one that opens up possibilities by allowing folx to move through and beyond their performativities to an imagined queer futurity that is not defined by normative technologies of affect (Munez, 2009; Zembylas, 2015). These technologies—as a disciplinary power— create limits of what is deemed legitimate; much like performativity, technologies of race, gender, and/or sexuality are produced in the affective realm of everyday life infiltrating and governing our bodies on a daily basis (Zembylas, 2015). Being- encouraged to play with gender through a facilitated dance workshop was a queering of traditional approaches to dance education because it asked participants to strip away inhibitions while allowing the music to facilitate movement as an affective release of inner possibilities (Sloan, 2018).
Twysted facilitated a half-day workshop with the research group which included two youth participants Bianca and Sasha,5 my co-facilitator Sadie Epstein- Fine—who like the youth participants identifies as queer spawn, and myself—a queer parent. At the time, Bianca was 10 years old and in grade 5. She described herself as warm, poofy haired, tallish, dramatic, beautiful, musically gifted, and quirky. Sasha was 13 and in grade 8. She described herself as weird, unique, and amazing. Together we learned the elements (hand performance, catwalk, duck- walk, dips, and floor performance) and learned a routine that incorporated them all. Learning to vogue was a capacity building workshop in a uniquely queer art form created by, and most often performed by, LGBTQ2S+ folx of colour. With participants from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds it was important that each participant saw themselves represented in the artistic facilitation team and in the art we were using in our applied theatre work. Voguing with Twysted was one of many ways we explored the diversity of LGBTQ2S+ culture and representation within the applied theatre workshop.
Living differently as affective anti-oppression education
Affect as a theoretical concept addresses the pre-cognitive realm of feeling and emotion. Following a Spinozian tradition, ‘Affect arises in the midst of inbetween- ness: in the capacities to act and be acted upon’ (Seigworth & Gregg, 2010, p. 1). It is an intensity of sensation that circulates between bodies, both human and non-human (Massumi, 1995). Affect contributes to a body’s ability to think, feel, and act as it sticks, binds, and pulls apart bodies in a constant and ephemeral state of motion (Ahmed, 2015). Affective intensities impact our body's ability to move, to touch, and to feel, and in doing so, police everyday life. In order to ‘live differently’, a collective reordering of these intensities is necessary. This reordering is an uncomfortable encounter with difference that queers the status quo by putting the body, along with desire, touch, emotion and feeling at the centre of transformation and inquiry. Kumashiro (2000) believes that to live differently is the goal of anti-oppression education because imaging a queer futurity based on our available discourses is not-yet possible. First, we must move and live differently in order to make new ways of being thinkable. It is through this approach that bodies can engage with the unknown and work to live in new ways. Engaging embodiment in this work can facilitate possibilities that are not yet known through rational thought, voguing can be seen as a way of freeing bodies to move and think in new ways.
The study of affect engages a site of inquiry beyond the epistemological question of what a body ‘is’ (as shaped by social structures), by drawing on ontological and material ideas when asking what a body can ‘do’ (Ahmed, 2015; Springgay, 2008; Zembylas, 2015). This is an important shift because, as researchers, we are no longer bound by language’s overwhelming perpetuation of violent and harmful discourses. Instead, we can explore how that violence shifts, evolves, and circulates across and between bodies, finding potentialities for transforming ways of being with one another. ‘In the bleak, post-post-modernist landscape where “agency” seems lost forever’ (Boler & Zembylas, 2016, p. 22) there is a need to understand how the elusive becomings of everyday affects can contribute to tangible change.
A useful concept for thinking about the circulation of affect is Sara Ahmed’s (2015) ‘economies of affect’. Ahmed does not believe that affect resides within bodies, signs, and objects but rather is in constant circulation between them. She stales: ‘Signs increase in affective value as an effect of the movement between signs: the more signs circulate, the more affective they become’ (p. 45). The circulation of affect attaches itself to signs that are in constant movement and they gain affective value as they are circulated more and more. This stickiness means that signs with a high affective threshold will be producing encounters more regularly and governing the relationship of those encounters. Therefore, the way that bodies intra- and inter-act in the affective realm becomes determined by dominant signs and objects creating technologies of affect through what feels ordinary.
Ahmed uses the example of hate as an affective economy; when hateful encounters are perpetuated they work to ‘materialize the very surface of collective bodies’ (Ahmed, 2015, p. 46). As hate circulates through speech, emotion, and action, it produces an affective economy that is both material and social, where the subject is simply a momentary landing point, not a destination or point of departure. Hate becomes more powerful as its circulation increases. This produces a society of control wherein signs with high affective value, such as hate, racism, or heteronormativity, dominate our intra-actions becoming normalised forms of subjugation as they are circulated in-between bodies. Ahmed believes that through our inattention, that which is seen as ordinary is in fact gaining affective value as it works to control bodies through dominant ideologies and technologies that govern our encounters. Attuning to the movement of ordinary affect provides an opening to understand these force-relations, their impact on individuals, communities, and societies, and to attempt to collaboratively reinvent the potentiality for different kinds of encounters. Voguing provided this opportunity for bodies to come into and out of contact with one another as affective intensities circulated, punctured participants’ bodily horizons, and facilitated openings for new ways of moving and being to emerge. According to Ahmed (2006) bodily horizons are the boundary of what a body can reach, the limit of what a body can do, and what it can feel. When participants work to realign and disrupt their bodily horizons, they shift towards realising their bodies can reach new limits, and that they can live in new ways. The bodily horizon sits at the threshold of what is currently possible. When this threshold is punctured and new horizons are created, new possibilities for living differently can emerge.
Applied theatre as research-creation
This research used participatory and collaborative processes as a research-creation methodology, which positioned young people and artist-educators as co- investigators and co-creators in understanding their life experiences through their intra-actions, ordinary affects, and entangled encounters (Anderson & O’Connor, 2013). The creative process unfolded during a three-day applied theatre workshop with youth (aged 10 and 13) who have at least one LGBTQ2S+ parent.
Together, artist-educators and youth developed performance work that draws on the life experiences of these young people.
I chose to use applied theatre as a research-creation methodology for a number of reasons. Most importantly, I am responding to a call from Lather and St Pierre (2013), who assert, ‘the ethical charge of our work as inquirers is surely to question our attachments that keep us from thinking and living differently’ (p. 631). Using applied theatre practice as a research methodology questions these attachments. Belliveau and Lea (2016), ‘encourage artist-researchers to position their art-making not as an appendix or a companion piece, but instead at the heart of their research’ (p. 189). It was in taking up this call that I engaged as an artist, educator, participant, and researcher within this project. Working collaboratively through an applied theatre process meant that creation became a proposition for knowing as it evolved from our intra-actions with personal narrative, material objects, and other moving bodies.
It is impossible to know exactly how the creative process will unfold, and as post-qualitative researchers suggest, it is important that we do not try to predict outcomes, but rather, enter into the mangle and allow intensities to bubble up (Jackson, 2013; Lather & St Pierre, 2013; Manning 2015). In order to come to know the world through the material beings with which bodies intra-act, we must first accept that intra-actions are unknowable, evolving, and uncertain (St Pierre, 2013). Material agency creates unpredictable encounters that emerge through a process of becoming (Holbrook & Pourchier, 2014; Springgay, 2012; St Pierre, 2013). These relational encounters shift and change from moment to moment as new elements engage, new materials are created, and new understandings become (un)known. In an argument Against Method Erin Manning (2015) states: ‘Thought is not what organizes an event post-facto, nor is it what articulates an event in language. Thought, instead, is a key aspect of the appreciation that drives an occasion to express itself as this or that in experience’ (p. 60). This is exactly what unfolded as the group learned to vogue together exploring movement and feeling through our affective relationality.
Striking a pose as affective pause
In Figure 3.1 the group is learning about hand performance, one of the five elements of voguing. Movement here was not about bodies on a trajectory from point A to point B. Instead, it was about bodies that exist in relational movement with other people and things (Manning, 2015). This form of embodiment is a way of knowing through the body as it moves in relation with the wider. To engage the senses in a political becoming is an act of interference and disruption of the status quo: it is a queering of everyday affects by tuning into the ephemeral and sensational (Airton, 2013). When research-creation explores bodies in movement and creates opportunities for spontaneity, there is potential for new thought to emerge (Manning, 2015). Striking a pose (as seen in Figures 3.2 and 3.3) became an embedded and relational emergence of power and knowledge creating
FIGURE 3.1 Hand performance.
FIGURE 3.2 Holding a pose.
unpredictable compositions of embodied knowing through which an unsticking of affective signs materialised (Ahmed, 2015).
The choreography we learned had a section with four consecutive poses. The way the poses manifested in our bodies were not predetermined as part of
FIGURE 3.3 Owning a pose.
the choreography, but rather, new compositions emerged each and every time we rehearsed our movements. They were an embodied reaction to the moment, and to the poses that came before and after. The movement between the poses was fast paced, and that energy moved through our bodies towards a moment of stillness in connection to the beat, to one another, and to the choreography. The poses were an instant capture of a particular movement, a pause in the dance. It was a moment to understand movement between and beyond bodies, and a chance to hold affective energy' as it coursed through our bodies before being released back into the room with a new pose. The pace meant that the poses were not predetermined or planned, but rather they were a body’s response to the moment of movement and engagement. Although they were different each time, poses could be big, bold positions: in one instance Bianca dropped to the floor like a cat, one leg bent, one leg straight, a hand on her hip and a hand on the floor, and then popped up again to a hip jutting pose in the next beat. Other times, a pose was shy with a peek of an eye over a hand. Then again, poses returned to bigger-than-life movements with a head tossed back, a hand on a hip, a hand in hair, knees bent, arms thrust in the air, ready to pounce, hands on knees. Faces were teasing and playful. The poses were simultaneously shy and fierce, and proud and bold. They reflected momentary feelings and embodied pre-cognitive expressions of emotion. There was no time to think about what it meant or how it felt, or how race, class, and gender, for that matter, were intersecting in our enactment of a glamourous pose. Rather, striking a pose was an instance where the affective signs that uphold race, class, and gender could potentially be released (Ahmed, 2015).
To engage in the art of voguing Ls an opportunity to move and feel and be in a way that feels glamourous without fear of persecution because of the way your body Ls read. Bailey (2011) states dial: ‘the Black body is read through and within a visual epistemology, where gender and sexual hierarchies are corporeal, ballroom members refashion themselves by manipulating their embodiments and performances in ways dial render them visible and remarkable within the ballroom scene’ (p. 380). Ballroom and in turn voguing is an opportunity to perform race, class, and gender not as a marginalising affecdve encounter, but as an embodied release of power and opportunity. The more poses were rehearsed, the more playful participants became in their ability to strike a pose. It was when participants let dteir bodies take the lead dial the unsticking of technologies of affect was the most profound (Ahmed, 2013; Zembylas, 2013). The heteronormativitv and racism dial seemed to inhibit participants’ ability to move through dieir everyday life was being pushed out through openings in their bodily horizons (Ahmed, 2006), and reclaimed as queer possibility dirough bold proclamations of embodied self-love, self-acceptance, and playful mov ement (hicks, 2017). Striking a pose provided the embodied pause in which diis affective release could take place.
Striking a pose is a power stance and holding that power while playing with gender and emotion facilitated openings across bodies. This can be seen in Figure 3.4, where Bianca is serving up classic voguing power in her side hip and
FIGURE 3.4 Bianca striking a pose.
hair flipping pose. These openings were the affective exchange of the politics of sensation. Twysted spoke of vogue femme as a way of deconstructing gender, revealing that he likes to pretend that he has long flowing hair and is wearing high heels when he vogues: these things represent the persona that he lakes on in his movement. We were each encouraged to find a persona for ourselves. Elements of my own personality emerged that I would likely not express in any other environment. My body moved as high femme,6 slightly shy, and very expressive/ playful, and other than ‘shy’, I would not normally use any of these words to describe myself. It was an unexpected emergence of difference, an insight into the possibilities of my own embodiment and performativity.
The repetition of choreography provided the space to fail, and an opportunity to learn through the thresholds of performance. Continuous movement uncovered new openings and new possibilities while continuing to push emergent becomings further and further. Manning (2016) suggests, ‘in its movement, the minor gesture creates sites of dissonance, staging disturbances that open experience to new modes of expression’ (p. 2). By engaging in minor gestures that had us moving in new ways, affect was pushed and pulled between our bodies in unexpected ways. This provided opportunities for affective signs to puncture our bodies (Mimed, 2015). I use the term, ‘punctured’ to describe the immediate embodied reaction that participants’ bodies had when they came into contact with something that challenged and destabilised their current way of being or knowing or doing. I argue that these openings facilitated moments of connection and sensation, which led to new ways of being. In this case, the puncturing of bodies through our engagement with movement created a bodily disruption—an opening—through which new possibilities were imagined (Ahmed, 2006).
As affective signs circulated differently, they attached to bodies, and took on new meaning through new sensation (Ahmed, 2015). For example, participants spoke repeatedly in the workshop about their encounters with homophobia and cisgenderism at school. They had both been expected to explain their families, identities, and their parents’ gender presentations over and over again. There was a lot of pain that circulated through these stories. When given the opportunity to move differently, to challenge cisgenderism in the way that bodies move through dance, these stories took on new meaning. Their affective currency unstuck from participants’ bodies as we collectively worked through movement to redefine the horizons of what is possible for our bodies, our genders, and our performativities (Ahmed, 2006). While as a researcher I witnessed these embodied shifts lake place as youth participants tried on different gender performances during the voguing workshop, there was very little reflection time dedicated to the relationship between movement and cisgenderism within our conversations. Youth participants weren’t given the chance to think deeply about their embodied encounters with voguing in a way that provided me access to their insights. So, while I can review footage, to dive deeply into a meaning making process feels as if I am inscribing an experience onto participants. Therefore, in order to provide deeper evidence for how voguing challenged cisgenderism I am going to position my own body as participant. As a collaborative process of research-creation, wherein I participated fully in all activities throughout the applied theatre workshop, this positionality feels appropriate.
I mention above that the compositions that emerged from my own embodiment during voguing felt high femme. Based on the video footage of the workshop, this interpretation could be debated because my ability to translate a feeling into a movement is limited. So, in the footage I look clumsy and often look on the role of the fool in order to bravely engage with the unknown (Gray, 2019), but inside I was motivated by my own understandings and interpretations of glamour. What surprised me is that in my everyday life my own embodiment of glamour often challenges the gender binary, I find joy and comfort in masculine and androgynous formal wear, movement, and positionalities. Yet, when positioned as being on the cover of vogue magazine through movements I associate with drag and ballroom culture; I was suddenly pouting my lips, blowing kisses, and embracing my curvy hips as they moved from side to side. I felt sexy through a femme embodiment. My prompt embrace of cisgender performativity within the context of vogue might suggest that this dance form does not subvert cisgender- ism, that, as Butler (1993) has previously suggested, voguing in fact reinforces cisgenderism. Yet, by creating an opening where I could move beyond my everyday performance of gender and play with the possibilities of gender expression through movement, regardless of their alignment with my own identities; possibilities for subverting and challenging my body’s attachments to the gender binary were facilitated. Manning states:
In our everyday movements, especially in relation to movements that have become habitual, a movement might nonetheless feel completely volitional. When this is the case, what has happened is that we’ve experienced a sense of deja-felt, in the event. This deja-felt occurs in the interstices of the conscious and the nonconscious, directing the event to its familiarity-in-feeling.
(Manning, 2016, p. 19)
My gender expression had become habitual. Through the process of learning to vogue, striking a pose, and finding a subconscious persona, I was able to embody my own internalised cisgenderism, to display my deeply held assumptions about gender through playful movement, and in doing so I was able to affectively engage in a release of these learned beliefs about gender. Voguing with its embedded affinity for movement that is read as highly feminine was able to provide a space where we could queer our understandings of gender by playfully engaging in the (unexpected.
The way that bodies move is defined by marginalising technologies of affect as they come into and out of contact with signs that have high affective currency (Ahmed, 2015; Zembylas, 2015). Voguing asks participants to shed those affective infiltrations through embodied movement and to create bodily compositions that do not adhere to gendered categories. Unlike many traditional dance forms, voguing does not have gendered roles. Instead, it is an artform that has each person moving, breathing, and feeling beyond the binary. Thus, through the art of voguing participants (myself included) redefined our affective relationships with gender and each other by moving our bodies differently and challenging the marginalising encounters of affective cisgenderism.
Movement + sensation = living differently
Perhaps the best example of movement and sensation as a form of living differently came as we tried to learn the ‘catwalk’ and the ‘duckwalk’. The catwalk is the travel element of voguing, meaning it is how you move from one location to another within the choreography and while staying in character. Twysted said doing the catwalk Ls ‘not walking but it is so much like walking’. A voguer begins on their toes in a seated position with their torso up. Then, they take small steps that almost cross one another, while staying on their toes with bent legs (Figure 3.5). This was not an easy move to master and the group stumbled into one another as we attempted to catwalk, failing again and again. Once we added the arms (which we extend and lift in opposite directions from the legs) our catwalks became sloppy and our focus narrower as we tried to master this new way of moving. Walking in a new way realigns a body’s ability to move. When a body’s ability to move is limited, an acute awareness of ‘its capacities for recuperation,
FIGURE 3.5 Learning the catwalk.
restructuring, reharmonisation’ (Boal, 2002, p. 49) materialises. The catwalk movement demanded that we recuperate from our failure. It required us to restructure our approach to walking, insisting that our bodies reharmonise within themselves and with one another in order to master the choreography. This reordering of our bodily horizons facilitated new understandings about how our bodies move and engage with the world around us (Ahmed, 2006).
The duckwalk facilitated a similar embodied becoming. In Twysted’s words, the duckwalk is 'the enemy’. The voguer must sit low over their heels and kick their legs straight out in front of their body while bouncing on their toes (Figure 3.6). Attempting the duckwalk resulted in laughter as bodies crashed to the floor over and over again. As a form of ‘muscular alienation’ (Boal, 2002) and movement as sensation, the duckwalk offered opportunities for participants ‘to feel more of what [the body] touches’, understand the ‘mechanised ways of walking and moving’, and ‘experience how our bodies, externalis[e] emotions’ while, ‘feeling and discovering new ways of structuring [our] muscles’ (Boal, 2002, p. 30). The challenge of engaging in the failure of trying to re-learn the thresholds of our bodily possibilities is that maintaining focus and pushing through the failure required an immense amount of discipline. In the case of the youth participants, both the catwalk and the duckwalk facilitated movement away from the task at hand. Distracted engagement led to the need to stop, start, and re-focus again and again. This collective movement saw us coming together as a community. As we each worked to overcome the challenge of mastering this move, we engaged and disengaged in our own ways and in our own times. My inability to master these movements (as seen in Figures 3.7-3.9) led to the young participants Irving to teach me, but my older, less flexible, less than a year post-partum body,
FIGURE 3.6 Twysted demonstrating the duck walk.
FIGURE 3.7 Moving bodies in/toward new compositions.
FIGURE 3.8 Pam falling.
was not as willing to engage in moving in the way it needed to if I was to master the art of voguing.
Pushing through the collective challenges and finding our own paces and resiliencies as individuals and as a collective meant that with each repetition, the confidence in the room grew. Each rehearsal of the choreography became its own performance as the group played with and learned the elements and form of
FIGURE 3.9 Bodies in movement.
voguing, and opened up new bodily horizons in relationship to one another (Ahmed, 2006). Reworking of bodily horizons through movement can be seen in Figures 3.7-3.9. It is a subtle re-ordering or our bodies through minor gestures, which can sometimes be hard to capture, interpret, and understand due to their subtle nature. Manning (2016) stales that ‘the grand [gesture] is given the status it has not because it is where the transformative power lies, but because it is easier to identify major shifts than to catalogue the nuanced rhythms of the minor [gesture]. As a result, these rhythms are narrated as secondary or even negligible’ (p. 1). Throughout the voguing workshop minor gestures, the small re-positioning of bodies in an attempt to replicate a movement or a sensation, were not negligible, but rather the very foundation of how our bodies moved and connected through dance.
The performance without a formal audience became a moment of collaborative meaning-making where everybody took on the role of performer and audience as the group worked towards a relational emergence of affective performance. Together our bodies moved, intra-acted, reimagined, and shared an unspoken, but very expressive and embodied story. It was in the inbetweeness of the movement that the performance came to fruition. Voguing is hard work. It was hard on participants’ bodies and this meant that they sometimes disengaged, got distracted, and sought out other brief activities to do. But that movement away from what is hard and then back again created a deeper affective reflection on how bodies came into and out of contact through movement. By engaging with this expressive art form, participants came to understand the thresholds of how their bodies moved, and in turn, pushed them to move differently. Here is Twysted and Sadie reflecting on the voguing workshop:
TWYSTED: Everybody vogues different. Like, literally. And, that is the beautiful thing about voguing. It is personal expression, which is why everybody vogues totally different.
SADIE: There is something so creative when you all move together in a room. TWYSTED: It feels good, right?
TWYSTED: It’s, like, empowering, almost.
(Video transcript, 15 March 2018)
When bodies are punctured as they come into contact during collaborative and relational performance, openings are created that facilitate movement both towards and away from one another. This invites recognition of similarities and differences across bodies and becomes a building block for participants to understand themselves as individuals and as agents of change within the wider world. As an affective collaborative performance, vogue femme worked to redefine ways of being and doing through movement as a relational encounter (Airton, 2013; Manning, 2016).
Conclusion: moving towards an imagined queer future
Movement through voguing in Twysted’s workshop pushed at our bodily horizons. It was a site of community building, where the group’s failure to successfully replicate the dance moves built a relational space of relative safety in which bodies could work to imagine new ways of being and doing. Voguing as an emerging encounter for participants took them to the edge of their bodily horizons and required them to move in unpredictable ways by unsticking familiar affects and facilitating movement towards the unknown (Ahmed, 2006, 2015). Participants were able to subvert their preconceived ideas about how they moved through space, how their bodies intra-acted with the world around them, and how they engaged in a performativity of race, class, and gender on a daily basis. Participants took risks with how they moved and could feel the difference in their bodies when they performed. They recreated what they had seen in popular culture through dramatic dips and pursed lips, but they also subverted these representations with their own embodied ideas of what it means to experiment with identity in an open forum.
By exploring the thresholds of possibility for young people from LGBTQ2S+ families this chapter demonstrated the potential that art holds in pushing at those boundaries. Through movement, performance as a political and educational tool brought forward opportunities to advocate for ways of living differently. Vogue Femme positioned the bodies of the performers in dialogue with one another, calling for an affective exchange of uniquely queer possibilities. Through expressive movement these young people challenged everyday intensities, such as cisgenderism, and the impact they have on their bodies ability to move. This created both tensions and releases dependent on the context in which their bodies are moving/navigating/living. Through connection to one another, to the art, and to the wider world, participants were able to embody ways of living differently. This movement created opportunities to explore how their bodies came into contact with the thresholds of performance and brought forward openings through which others could be invited to move in unison with them. This collective movement towards the unknown was an invitation to affectively (re)engage in how we queer the spaces through which bodies move and imagine a future where bodies are not defined by heteronormativity and cis-sexism but are free to move, and play, and respond, in unique and unpredictable ways.
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