From Russia With Love, For Real

December 12, 2013

ПИТЕР IN DA HOUSE 2013 -- St. Petersberg, Russia

Not to be a brag, but I am an integral part of the Chicago leg of the community made famous in the cult-classic Paris is Burning. This documentary explored the underpinnings of a community that developed as a direct result of intentionally keeping people of color out of arts society. When creative people are marginalized and deprived of opportunity to participate in the exchange of talents and ideas, they always create their own arenas. That’s how you ended up with things like the Chit’lin Circuit, where black people were relegated to a separate performance schedule from white performers. Don’t forget that some of our iconic entertainers such as Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, Eartha Kitt, etc. were not allowed to stay in the very hotels they performed.

Out of this community, society at large has been duly influenced by modes of speak, dance, fashion and philosophy. One such creation was the evolution of a dance first known as Presentation, then Performance, then Pop Dip and Spin and eventually in the late 80s as Vogue. It now falls under the umbrella of Hip Hop and Street Jazz.

Madonna, doing what she is does best--exploiting trends--introduced a trivialized, watered-down version of a dance she “discovered” while "slumming" in the New York nightlife of the early 80s. “Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it.” Um, sorry, Madonna, but there is “plenty” to be attributed to the ability of combining the movements of theater and vaudeville, martial arts, pantomime, yoga, gymnastics and the exaggerated, avant-garde model poses of the 60s (think Veruschka in the movie Blow Up) into one, seamless improvisation, to the incessant beat of Classic Disco and House Music. Putting your hands on your hips and puckering your lips does not a voguer make.

Imagine my surprise when I was solicited to give a workshop on the history and techniques of vogueing halfway around the world in St. Petersburg, Russia. I met some of the most gracious and loving people, ever. I am now thoroughly convinced that world peace will be achieved through the arts.

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