Feeling CVNTY: a new home for voguing online

As you may know, voguing is one of my major obsessions. I put together this hefty piece of writing on the modern vogue/ballroom scene for Boing Boing back in March: Welcome to the Ballroom, where Voguing is always in style

Inspired by interviews I gathered in my research for that piece, and my general love of watching videos clips of the dancing, sharing audio of the best music, and generally just watching geeky interviews, I have started a new blog dedicated to vogue and ballroom culture in its many forms. It’s called CVNTY and you can find it here:

While Paris Is Burning is one of my favourite movies ever, for many, it seems to have frozen vogue culture in a late 80s/early 90s time warp, something that is easier to digest as a retro scene. Of course, the era depicted in that film WAS a golden age, but voguing is a hugely vibrant culture right now, and I aim to show both the past AND the present, and maybe even a little bit of the future, if I’m lucky. There are already exclusive interviews up on CVNTY with kingpins of the modern ballroom sound MikeQ and Vjuan Allure, along with many others I interviewed for Boing Boing but whose contributions didn’t get used, as well as cross posts to pieces I have written for other sites such as Red Bull Music Academy and Dalston Superstore. I will keep the remit of this blog to dance music artists whose work touches on issues of queerness/race/class/otherness, although there will always be room for posting music, people and things that just fucking fabulous. Needless to say, my own production and dj work as CVNT will pop up from time to time.

To lure you in, dear DM reader, here’s a rare voguing clip I’ve just posted on CVNTY, and am sharing here too, as it deserves much more than the paltry 24,000 views it currently has.

It’s called Voguing: The Message, and it is from 1989, which means it pre-dates both Paris Is Burning and Madonna’s vogue daliance. It takes a look at the emerging vogue ball scene and the pier children who attended these events, and features interview and performance footage of the legendary Willi Ninja (above.) Founder of the House of Ninja, Willi was unarguably one of the greatest voguers of all time, and hugely responsible for voguing travelling beyond the clubs and being taken seriously as a n art form. This film possibly even pre-dates Ninja’s own starring role in the video for Malcolm McLaren’s “Deep In Vogue”, one of my favourite pieces of dancing ever caught on film. More info:

Voguing: The Message traces the roots of this gay, Black and Latino dance form, which appropriates and plays with poses and images from mainstream fashion. Voguing competitions parody fashion shows and rate the contestants on the basis of movement, appearance and costume. This tape is a pre-Madonna primer that raises questions about race, sex and subcultural style.

Dir. Jack Walworth, David Bronstein & Dorothy Low 1989 13 min. USA

Founded in 1977, Frameline is the nation’s only nonprofit organization solely dedicated to the funding, exhibition, distribution and promotion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender media arts. Frameline Voices is a new digital initiative that showcases diverse LGBT stories and expands access to films by and about people of color, transgender people, youth, and elders.

Voguing: The Message is that rare thing, an important historical document that gives insight into a time, a place, and a set of people. In other words it’s that thing we call GOLD DUST. 

You can find more like this (and subscribe!) over on CVNTY, but for now GET INTO IT:

Previously on Dangerous Minds:

Notes from the Niallist: That’s so CVNT, a ‘future-house’ voguing mix
Notes from the Niallist: A celebration of ‘Paris Is Burning’ with Latrice Royale and Peaches Christ
Dream Queens: ‘Voguing and the House Ballroom scene of NYC 1989-1992

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Dream Queens: ‘Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of NYC 1989-92’

Now here’s something that was sure to be found in the more fabulous Christmas stockings this past festive seasons. Published by the respected London-based record label Soul Jazz, Voguing: Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 is a collection of photographs by Chantal Regnault documenting the titular scene just as it gained worldwide attention thanks to the likes of Malcolm McLaren and Madonna.

Don’t be fooled if you think that voguing was a mere fad that came from nowhere to disappear just as fast as it sprung up 20-odd years ago. Yes, Madonna brought the dance form to the public consciousness, but if you think she invented it, then child, you need educatin’. Voguing started in Harlem in the 60s, where black and latino drag queens and transexuals had started to host their own balls (beauty pageants) outside of white society, and pioneered a new form of dance based on poses copied from Vogue magazine.

But the history of the drag and gay ballroom scene goes back much further than that - by about another hundred years, as explained by noted author and disco historian Tim Lawrence, in his foreword to this book:

Harlem’s Hamilton Lodge staged its first queer masquerade ball in 1869, and some twenty years later a medical student stumbled into another ball that was taking place Walhalla Hall on the Lower East Side. He witnessed 500 same-sex male and female couples ‘waltzing sedately to the music of a good band.

How things have changed - the modern voguing ballroom scene is/was anything but sedate! Lawrence goes on to put into context the concept of a “house” (in effect a surrogate gay family or gang), which has long been a central aspect of vogue and drag culture:

Referencing the glamorous fashion houses whose glamour and style they admired, other black drag queens started to form drag houses, or families that, headed by a mother and sometimes a father, would socialise, look after each other, and prepare for balls (including ones they would host and ones they would attend).


The establishment of the houses also paralleled the twists and turns of New York’s gangs, which flourished between the mid 1940s and the mid 1960s as the city shifted from an industrial to a post-industrial base while dealing with the upheavals of urban renewal, slum clearances and ethnic migration. As historian Eric Schneider argues, gangs appealed to alienated adolescents who wanted to earn money as well as peer group prestige.

Despite the faddish nature of Madonna’s daliance with this scene, voguing and ballroom documentaries like Wolfgang Busch’s How Do I Look and Jennie Livingston’s Paris Is Burning (not to mention performers like the late Willi Ninja and his extant House of Ninja) have done much to establish the history of this world and inspire new generations to take part. And it’s not hard to see the appeal - in a recent interview with The Guardian, Chantal Regnault eplained how voguing and its culture helped re-invigorate New York’s nightlife at the peak of the AIDS crisis:

...the Ball phenomena kind of revived New York nightlife, which had shrunk drastically as the first wave of AIDS related sicknessses were decimating the community. The Queens became the stars of the straight New York clubs, and began to be recognized, appreciated and photographed. They appeared on TV shows and were interviewed by TV icons. The voguers also became a big attraction and soon everybody wanted to emulate their dancing style. Two figures were instrumental in launching the trend in the awakened downtown clubs: Susanne Bartsch and Chichi Valenti, two straight white females who both had a knack for the new and fabulous and a big social network.

Why 1989-1992? What happened next?

1989-1992 was the peak of creativity and popularity for the ballroom scene, and when the mainstream attention faded away, the original black and Latino gay ballroom culture didn’t die. On the contrary, it became a national phenomena as Houses started to have “chapters” all over the big cities of the United States. But I was not a direct witness to most of it as I moved to Haiti in 1993.

As Regnault states voguing is still going strong today, with balls in many of America (and the world’s) largest cities, and this book is a perfect introduction to a compelling, not to mention often over-looked, aspect of gay and black history. Regnault managed to capture some of the most recognisable faces from that world showing off in all their finery, while there are fascinating interviews with some of the key players like Muhammed Omni, Hector Xtravaganza, Tommie Labeija and more. Voguing And The House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 is quite simply an essential purchase for fans of underground culture.

Avis Pendavis, 1991

Cesar Valentino (right), Copacabana, 1990

RuPaul, Red Zone 1990
Voguing: Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 by Chantal Reignault (with an introduction by Tim Lawrence) is available to buy from Soul Jazz Records.

With thanks to Legendary Ballroom Scene for the scans.

Previously on Dangerous Minds
‘Paris Is Burning’: Vogue Realness

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The return of real House with Azari & III
05:57 am


house music
Azari & III

House music has gotten a bit of a bad rep over the last ten to fifteen years, and it’s not difficult to hear why. Between the overbearing repetitiveness of trance, the none-more-overdriven sound homogenisation of French “electro” and the simply boring minimalism of, yes, minimal, it’s very easy to forget that house was once a marginal art form that dripped pure funk.

The new album by Azari & III looks set to dress that balance, taking the sound back to its underground roots in the black, gay dance scenes of Chicago. Back in the mid 80s the original house-heads would congregate and wig out at Frankie Knuckles’ Warehouse club and Ron Hardy’s Music Box, to a soundtrack of European disco and proto-techno mixed up with American funk and electro and augmented by drum machine loops. Some of those kids went on to release seminal records on the legendary Trax imprint, among them Marshall Jefferson, Larry Heard, Jamie Principle and even Knuckles himself.

Azari & III are the next logical progression of House music, as it inevitably gives up the gloss and returns to its rawer starting points. The synths and drum machines are raw and dirty, the vocals are ambiguous and androgynous but full to the brim with soul, and the songs are druggy, sleazy, and catchy as hell. The Toronto based four piece have just released their self-titled debut album, and the buzz built by their earlier singles is beginning to pay off with glowing critical reviews and a growing cult status. If you’re a fan of Hercules & Love Affair, then I can’t recommend this band and album highly enough. This is music designed to make you sweat, to jack your body, to vogue.
This is the video for Azari & III’s debut single, the highly catchy “Hungry For The Power”, featuring coke snorting yuppies, S&M vixens, murder and cannibal voguing zombies (NSFW):

Azari & III - “Manic”

You can buy Azari & III’s debut album here.
More Azari & III videos after the jump.

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Paris Is Burning: Vogue Realness

Released twenty years ago this year, Paris Is Burning is one of the all-time great music documentaries. It’s not really about music though, it’s about the mid 80’s gay/drag “vogue” subculture that sprung up in New York City, and the adverse social conditions overcome by the contestants (mostly black and Hispanic transvestites and transsexuals). The music is in the background, but plays as important a role as the clothes, the make-up, the settings or the interviews. 

This time, this place, and unfortunately most of these people don’t exist anymore. This upload won’t for long either, as it keeps getting yanked - so seriously, if you haven’t watched this film before, watch it now while you can. The director Jennie Livingston has never made another film that garnered as much praise and sadly, for most of the queens involved, this was as famous as they were ever gonna get. Despite being some of the most funny, articulate and charming people ever seen on film. They never had a penny to their names, which is probably why they threw the best parties in the world.

Voguing wasn’t just some hyped up fad that was hot for a New York minute (well, maybe if you are Madonna), - it has a rich, complex history and is just as big a subculture now as it was then, bigger maybe, with the dancing developed to new super-athletic extremes and the balls bolder events. Vogue dancing and vogue balls are an overlooked part of both gay and black history and culture, but more and more they getting the attention and recognition they deserve. Due in so small part to this remarkable film. 


As I thought, this film wouldn’t last long on Vimeo. However, someone has thankfully uploaded it to YouTube too:








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