I ♥ Vogue Evolution on America’s Best Dance Crew

I’m really excited about Vogue Evolution, a group competing in the current season of America’s Best Dance Crew. The crew members are black and Latino. Four are out gay men and one is an out trans woman. From the beginning they’ve been very upfront about their identities (a relief after seeing so many euphemistic referrals to queer people on TV including the insulting “Choice Fab-u-lous” category at this year’s Teen Choice Awards). Check out this video from the first episode of the season where they introduce themselves and talk a little bit about being gay and trans:

Voguing has been around since the Harlem Renaissance and has been dominated by queer people of color. Pony Webster, one of the crew’s directors, described the style in an interview with After Elton:

Voguing came from poses in Vogue Magazine, that turned into movement that then became self-expression. Voguing is like flamboyant movement with abstract art with self-expression. There are some elements to keep you in the box. There’s hands, which is moving your hands. There’s catwalk, which is a stance with your knees, then there’s duckwalk, so there’s a skeleton, but it’s really self-expression.

Voguing has received public recognition as a result of the film Paris is Burning and Madonna’s appropriation of the style. However, Vogue Evolution’s participation in ABDC is the first time members of the house and ballroom community are representing their own style to such a wide pop culture audience.

Vogue Evolution is made up of some of the most popular dancers in the house/ballroom scene. The crew seems to take responsibility to their community very seriously – members also do peer education work around HIV/AIDS. I consider linking art and activism very important, a value I’ve seen reflected in the queer community and that I’m happy is being represented on such a big stage.
The current popularity of dance competition TV shows has led to some problematic gender moments. ABDC is not without blame: MTV’s website refers to the Vogue Evolution members as “the guys” and in critique the judges have alternated between calling them “guys” and “ladies,” seemingly unable to find a gender neutral way to refer to a mixed gender crew made up of gay men and a trans woman. I think the crew has generally been treated with respect, though, and I’m glad ABDC decided to include them in the competition. It is so rare to see positive representations of queer people of color. And it is even more rare to see positive representations of queer people of color engaged in high femme gender performance. Dance shows like So You Think You Can Dance? have repeatedly criticized male dancers for not being “masculine” enough. The male members of Vogue Evolution are dancing very femme in a very femme style, looking fabulous doing it, and getting the props they deserve.
I’m an especially big fan of Leiomy Maldonado. She’s taken on this opportunity for a teaching moment, explaining her identity to a wide audience. She even told her coming out story to After Elton and said she would use the prize money from the show to pay for sex reassignment surgery. It can be exhausting and frightening to be out about being trans and take on the work of educating others about your own identity. I feel really proud watching Leiomy.
And, oh yeah, her dancing is ovah! She owns the stage, makes challenging moves look effortless, and have you seen that thing she does with her hair? I want to be able to do that! During critique of Vogue Evolution’s dance for the Beyoncé challenge Lil’ Mama told Leiomy, “it took a transgender woman to bring out the feminine side of Beyoncé.” The whole crew brought a dynamic energy to the piece, but Leiomy was definitely the queen. Check out the video:

I know I’m biased, but Vogue Evolution is my favorite crew this season and I’d love to see them win.
Feministing Community blog posts on Vogue Evolution:
Vogue Evolution: Is the TV Dance Craze Breaking Down Barriers?
Gay and Trans Representation on America’s Best Dance Crew

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Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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