In 2002 I fell in love with the sounds of house, which stimulated my infatuation with house dancing. I grew up in a household in which boogaloo, popping, breaking, and hip-hop were being practiced by my brother and of course my mother, who is an old school popper. Dance was a key part of my cultural development and falling in love with the house culture introduced me to house dancing…my favorite abstract expression.
As a child taking ballet, modern, lyrical, and variants of jazz, I had always had a passion for dancing. While my brother, choreographer Jamile McGee, took dance serious and made it his career, I on the other hand didn’t pursue it as a career. But my lifestyle of house music led me to discovering a unique freedom and abstract expression within the atmospheric beats of house. House dancing is one of my favorite styles of dance and I do refer to myself as a house dancer.
Now, within house dancing you’ve got legends like Brian “Footwork” Green, Ejoe Wilson, Tony McGregor, Marjory Smarth, Caleaf Sellers and “Brooklyn” Terry Wright that are professional house dancers, but I think anyone and everyone who lets house move them is a house dancer. Yes, there are technical moves in the foundations of house, which including footwork, jacking, and lofting, but aside from having the skills down, house is truly a feeling; there is no right or wrong way to house.
You see, the beauty of house is the unlimited potential to express yourself. Whatever the beat compels your soul to feel, your body knows how to naturally respond. Even if you do have some 8 counts prepared, you still get lost in the music and the spirit of house moves your body.
This fluid expression in house dance results in so many different styles of house dancing. You can spend hours on YouTube (like I do) and see so many different house dancers with their own style. While one might be more driven to do footwork, another dancer might be more soulful and loose with big expressions via the arms and torso. It all really depends on how the track moves you at the moment.
With the freedom of mind, body, and soul being priority, that doesn’t mean house dance is obsolete from competition; the vibe of competing is less aggressive and more in the spirit of happiness. Events such as House Dance International and House Dance Forever bring house dancers, spectators, novices, and house aficionados from around the world together to compete, share music, and keep the culture thriving.Competition can be fierce, but there is still a level of joy and spiritual freedom in the competitors that you might not see in a hip-hop battle.
House dance is all about letting the music take control and losing all inhibitions; nothing is off limits, no style or movement is considered “wrong.” You could be jacking one moment, then throwing in a hint of vogue followed by some african movement. Now, there are battles and styles such as vogue and wacking that are often in their own categories at events, but freestyle and experimental rounds allow for anything and everything…in the spirit of house.
So, as you can see, I can keep going on a long-winded explanation of house dance and the art of it. But I’d rather let the videos do the rest of the talking. So I leave you with this. You know how you walk into an art gallery and you see that insane abstract piece that makes no sense, yet it speaks to you? Well, that’s the spirit of house. House is that weird abstract painting that inspires you to stare, speak, or even pick up a brush and let the innate emotion move your limbs…jack your body.
NYC based band, Hercules and Love Affair, is known for their disco house music, which propels any house dancer to strike a pose. Not only do I love this song because of it’s classic house beat, but the vogueing in the video reminds me of how much I love house dancing and vogue. I’m not the best at vogueing, but I appreciate the history of the style and it’s relationship with my beloved house music.
Some of you may be reading this and be like what the heck is vogue? Isn’t that a Madonna song or some type of dancing that gay guys do? It is true that a lot of widely acclaimed vogue dancers are gay, but that doesn’t mean everyone who vogues is gay or a male. Vogue, which was originally inspired by Vogue magazine, is the art form of moving your body to the music through model poses. These poses become incorporated with angular, linear, and rigid arm, leg, and body movements.
Vogueing is a lot more rigid then house dancing, but it is truly a intricate dance form. There are many different styles of vogue, new style and classic style are two forms that differ completely. Vogue is a dance style that is practiced widely amongst different ballrooms. For those of you who aren’t in tune with LGBT terminology, ball culture consist of different “houses” or groups of LGBT’s that are overseen by a “house mother” or “house father”. It’s part of the LGBT subculture and it is a beautiful event to watch! Dancer’s and drag queens “walk” and compete for trophies. The competitions sometimes consist of a “walk”, in which the contestant will vogue or dance, sometimes they are even judge off the success or failure of their drag.
There are many different houses in the vogue community, House of Corey, the House of LaBeija, the House of Ninja, the House of Pendavis, the House of Garavani and House of Xtravaganza. Those are a few of the major houses on the East Coast, but some other well known houses include the House of Mizrahi, House of Infiniti, and the House of Aviance.
For many years, my favorite house has been the House of Ninja. Willi Ninja, who passed in 2006, was known as the Grandfather of Vogue. In the 80s he helped moved the vogue dance scene from New York clubs to the concert stage, resulting in a new radical performance art. He taught vogueing throughout Europe and Japan, even modeled in runway shows for Jean Paul Gaultier, and he danced in music videos. Willi Ninja was influenced by martial arts at a young age, which is why he called himself Willi Ninja, which also became the name of one of the most famous vogue houses, House of Ninja.
Since I listen to a lot of house music, I’ve been exposed to different styles of dance. Vogue has become an art form that I enjoy watching. I’m still learning it, but it is fascinating to watch and cheer on. I plan on going to my first House Dance International hopefully next summer, eventually trekking across the globe to attend the Juste Deboute. I still have a lot more house dancing to learn, so for now I’ll continue to eat some popcorn and spend hours on youtube watching vogue battles.
If you want to learn more, check out the 90s documentary Paris is Burning, which chronicles Willi ninja and the ball culture scene in NYC. The clip below is from the documentary, I have to watch the full film!
I loooooooooove Javier Ninja! He is a vogue beast, barely anybody can touch him when it comes to competition. As soon as he hits the stage, it’s a wrap!