Editor’s note: We’ve reached Day Four of Heather Wisner’s five-day course through Portland dance classes in honor of National Dance Week, and, of course, that means Vogue Femme! Previously in the series, we’ve encountered Laura Haney’s BeMoved class, Latya Wilkins’ hip-hop class and Kody Jauron’s Broadway jazz class.
Part Four: Vogue Femme at Vitalidad Movement Arts Center
What is it? A crash course on the form’s history and fundamentals
What makes it fun? Feeling like a supermodel
Who is it for? Designed to uplift queer people of color, but all ages/races/body types welcome
Who is it not for? Introverts, anyone with joint or flexibility issues
As a first-timer to Vitalidad, I get a quick tour from front-desk staff, ending at the classroom (one of four in this spacious studio, located around the corner from Vega Dance Lab) where Vogue Femme will be held. During our warmup, the instructor plays Indian music and guides us through gentle stretches, which isn’t quite what I was expecting. Then he turns to face us. “OK,” he asks, “Does anyone have any questions about Bhangra or Bollywood?”
I run back to the front desk.
As it turns out, Vogue Femme has moved to another room; I dash in just in time for a set of intense quad stretching. After the warmup, instructor Daniel Girón gives us a voguing history lesson and lays down Vogue Femme’s five fundamentals: catwalk, hand performance, duck walk, Spin Dip and floor work. If your voguing knowledge is limited to Paris is Burning or RuPaul’s Drag Race, Girón recommends catching up with New York Vogue Nights:
Remember when I said that you don’t have to be young and pliable to dance? [Editor’s Note: That was in Part One: “You don’t have to be young and pliable.”] That doesn’t apply here: pliability is actually a huge advantage.
Catwalking is easy enough—fun, even, if you’ve ever dreamt of sashaying down the Left Bank swathed in haute couture: think of the thoroughbred canter of runway models, then embellish with saucy hip switches, forced-arch prances, or all of the above done in a deep, parallel-kneed plié.
Add in hand performance, and it gets trickier, especially an open-palmed figure-8 move over the head. Done well, it looks like you’re creating your own disco ball; done poorly, like a flock of birds is trying to peck out your eyes.
Speaking of birds, the duckwalk is exactly what it sounds like: you sit on your heels and perambulate forward, incorporating hand performance. The trick is to make this look effortless, or at the very least, not to topple over sideways like a duck with a balance disorder.
And then there’s Spin Dip, which nearly snaps me in two. Those intense quad stretches were meant to prepare us to drop to the floor, one quad resting at the side of the body (not under it) and bent at the knee so that the foot points back toward the head; the other leg is extended straight out or draped over the bent leg. The torso is arched, with the arms thrown back behind the head. It’s impressive, especially when you do it fast, which I don’t.
Girón is a friendly and encouraging instructor, which is good, since he’s looking to grow the Northwest’s vogue scene (more on that here and here). I’ll be glad to cheer it on from the sidelines; until then, it’s off to my local community pool to swim out the kinks.
Coming Up: Day Five, after a swim at the pool.