Waacking and voguing may share some similarities, but they are two distinct styles with their own stories of origin.

If you want to learn more about these styles, then keep reading!

Waacking and Voguing in Competition Sets

We often see choreography drawn from waacking and voguing techniques in the dance competition scene today. A set would seem incomplete without some sort of “fem” piece to change up the pace and flaunt that feminine flair.

Waacking seems to be the more prominent style seen in choreography in the West, which makes sense since it was started in LA.

For example, at Ultimate Brawl 2016, CADC uses waacking in their puppeteer set. Their arm movements exhibit both the waack and hair brushes, two moves we’ll discuss later.

We occasionally see some voguing elements used by Western teams like Kings and Queens at Bridge 2014.

Aside from performing to a remix of Madonna’s Voguethe dancers exhibit influences of “runway” and hand performance, using voguing techniques we’ll also discuss later.

Waacking and Voguing Similarities

Both styles exude a sense of power and superiority, which makes popular amongst many dancers. I mean, who doesn’t like dancing and feeling like they’re the baddest b*tch in the room?

Let’s examine the ways waacking and voguing share certain similarities.

Waacking and voguing began to resemble each other once one of the founders of waacking, Tyrone Proctor, moved to New York and joined the crew, “Breed of Motion” with other renown waackers and voguers like Archie Burnett and Willi Ninja.

Archie Burnett

Willi Ninja, photo from slrp.org

The influence of Breed of Motion on the dances and the community have resulted in associations between the two styles.

waacking and voguing

This video by Kumari Suraj delves deeper into the history and origins of Waacking.

Both styles create an atmosphere of feminine power that can cause dancers to confuse or merge the labels. These subtle combinations can be seen in sets like Kaba Kids’ set at Vibe JRs 2016.

The team utilized influences of voguing hand performance, but it’s mostly dominated by different variations of the “waack.”

What is the whack/waack?

The basic “whack” (original spelling) is an arm movement that creates the striking motion. Literally, to hit or whack something. It was originally spelled like the literal word, as in to “whack.”

The arm rolls that originate in the shoulder, elbow, then wrist and travels over the head and back down to one’s side were inspired by martial arts and the use of nunchucks. (Viktor Manoel)

It’s also common to see that these fem pieces are performed by all females, and compared to before, there are a lot more fem pieces that feature men as well.

However, both voguing and waacking were created by gay men and transwomen in underground clubs and ballroom scenes.

Having men perform fem pieces in the dance community seemed like breaking the gender norm, which is celebrated and cheered on, warranting plenty of “Yaass work.”

However, within the cultural and historical context of the styles they use, the two have been performed by gay men and transwomen since its conception.

Historical and Cultural Differences in Waacking and Voguing

Although the two styles resemble each other and have similar origin backgrounds, waacking and voguing are completely distinct styles with their own histories and contexts.

“In punking, you move on the 1357. You initiate the music, give birth to it. Vogue is done on the 2468’s. You sit in the rhythm and ride it, manipulate it.”

– Viktor Manoel

History of Waacking

Waacking started inthe 1970’s in Los Angeles’ gay clubs, where poor black, Latino, and Asian gay men, who had to hide their gay identity in public, were able to find freedom in expressing themselves to funk music and escape society’s condemnation of their homosexuality.

Before it was coined as “waacking,” it was called “punking” to transform the derogatory term for gay people as “punks” to a positive action of “punking” the music.

“Punking means to make something your b*tch. Instead of being defeated by a person or thing or situation, punking is how we flipped the script to make own it.”

– Viktor Manoel

waacking and voguingPunking is the root of waacking. They told the story as the actor of the movie, since it was influenced by the dramatic acting in Hollywood’s 1950s silent films and Looney Toons cartoons. The term “waacking” came about when the straight community fell in love with the dance but didn’t want to associate themselves with the homosexual term “punking.”

Additionally, locker Shaba-doo altered the term from “whacking” to “waackin” to disassociate the dance with its sexual and violent connotations. The additional “g” was added by Jeffery Daniel, which makes it the term the dance community knows today as “waacking”.

Since the original punks, Arthur, Tinker, and Andrew, were dancers on Soul Train, punking and waacking proliferated throughout the country. However, due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s, most of the original punks passed away or were murdered, leaving only Viktor Manoel as the last original punk and causing punking to fade from the mainstream in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The catalyst of the resurgence of waacking was Brian Green, who began to teach waacking in 2003 to provoke waacking elders to start sharing with the new generation of waackers we have today.

Although waacking is seen in plenty of choreography on stage and in music videos, the original context in which the style is performed is within a freestyle jam and battle context, where dancers celebrate together in cyphers and battle it out 1 vs 1.

The core values and aspects that identify waacking include celebrating individuality, self-expression, freedom, storytelling, and drama.

History of Voguing

On the other hand, voguing was created in Rikers Island Prison where inmates would copy the poses from Vogue magazines and battle each other. One of these inmates named Paris Dupree brought voguing to the Harlem, New York LGBTQ Ballroom scene in the 1970’s & 1980’s.

A great resource to learn more about voguing’s history more in depth is a documentary called Paris is Burning.

waacking and voguingThe ballroom scene became an important refuge for both gay and trans youth. As a result of turning away from or being disowned by their own families, they formed houses with a “mother” and/or a “father” as its leaders.

Mothers and fathers are role models to their “children” in the house and provide guidance and advice even beyond the ballroom context. Mothers are drag queens, or better referred to as femme queens or transsexuals, while fathers are butch queens. In simpler terms, mothers have “vaginas,” while the fathers don’t.

Most houses have “specialities” and a certain reputation, and members are invited to join by mothers and/or fathers, but those who haven’t found a house that suits them are called free agents or 007s. Houses are not teams but families which make it harder to quit and require a deeper commitment.

These houses and free agents compete at balls for money or for glory against other houses. The battle form is “ballroom style” where both competitors dance at the same time, but before battling another dancer, one must receive their “10s” or get chopped by the judges as the preliminary measure.

 

The vogue performance categories include hand performance, old way, new way, and vogue femme, which is even sometimes divided into “soft and cunt” vs dramatics.

Aside from dancing itself, these balls have certain categories that remain within the sphere of vogue including runway, bizarre, realness, body, face, costume design, and many others depending on the ball and the house host.

Aside from the judges, there will also be a highly regarded MC who chants over the beats with repetitive commands and directions for the rounds.

When a round comes near it’s end, the MC will chant “1001, 1, 2002, 2, 3003, now hold that pose for me,” where the dancer will hold a pose to finish off their round.

Now, the core of ballroom culture is the house music spun by ballroom DJs, who know what to play for every category and don’t really mix but loop these ballroom beats. The music is not your typical house music but with a particular taste full of attitude and punctuated hits.

As heard from the MCs, in the music, and out of the mouths of every person in the ballroom scene, the culture has its own lingo and “gay slang.” Prominent words often heard in the music and the vocabulary include “cunt,” “pussy,” and “bitch,” but these words are not used with derogatory intent but as terms of endearment.

Although vogue was popularized in the mainstream by Madonna’s Vogue, Jody Watley was the first artist to feature voguing in her music videos like Still A Thrill. Although it rarely peppers mainstream media, vogue continues to thrive in the underground ballroom scenes around the world.

Technical Similarities and Differences between Waacking and Voguing

An easy way to look at the visual and technical differences between waacking and vogue is through movement quality, poses, and fundamental movements.

Waacking’s movement quality mirrors the music with a groovy movement quality paired with its jazzy dramatic silent movie flow.

In contrast, voguing tends to be more pedestrian with different types of walks due to its relation to runway and have more variations in intensity.

Both styles utilize posing, but the flows and shapes are a bit different. Waacking uses poses as breaks in movement that can either be a full intense stop or a one that oozes with drama.

Voguing can use poses in the same way, but they tend to be executed one after each other to the syncopated beats in the music as if posing for pictures. Also, their shapes strive to find beauty in what can look awkward and require exquisite flexibility.

Lastly, although the popular focus is on their similar use of hand/arm movements, the significant difference between the two can be seen in the details of their foundational technique, where waacking has its iconic “waack” and voguing has its variations of hand performances.

The “waack” begins with your wrist relaxed, fingers facing the floor, elbow parallel with your shoulder, placed at your collarbone, which is then brought up over your head to touch the back of your shoulder with your palm facing out. Then it comes back over your head, flipping the wrist back to its initial position to twist it in front of you to lay out your arm straight, palm facing out.

Aside from the waack itself, waacking technique includes hair brushes, punking, extensions, posing, and footwork. In all the movements, there is a strong emphasis on musicality and interpretation of its rhythm.

For voguing, there are five elements: hand performance, cat walks, duck walks, floor performance, and dips and spins. Hand performance includes any circular, figure eight, and wave movements with your fingers, wrists, elbows, and arms.

Interestingly, “death drop” and “shablam” are not considered terminology within the ballroom culture. Whether it is a dramatic one from a jump or one slowly easing into the floor, it’s still considered a dip.

Accessibility to Styles in LA

As briefly mentioned earlier, waacking seems to be more prominent than voguing in LA since it finds its origins there.

However, the waacking scene isn’t too large at the moment, and its category has started to fade from battles. Nonetheless, people are still waacking and trying to preserve the culture, but the scene is not as accessible as it may have been before.

On the other hand, waacking classes are not too hard to find in LA. Dancers like Lorena V continue to teach as a member of the Waackers in local studios like Movement Lifestyle. Her classes sometimes extend into freestyle sessions, so it’s a great way to meet other people involved in the scene and to learn the technique and culture first hand.

waacking and voguingSince the voguing scene is not as big in LA as compared to New York, it’s a bit harder to comfortably dip your toe in it. A good first step is to look into Dashaun Wesley’s vogue femme classes at Movement Lifestyle as well.

In the cases with these street styles, it’s best to just approach the people that have been involved and go experience a jam or a ball yourself.

As Danish waacker, Shahin Damka, once told me, “I’m not going to tell you what it’s like because you have to go and experience it yourself to know what it’s like.”

Current Cultural Context of Waacking and Voguing

Over forty to fifty years have past since these styles were born, so they are bound to have been altered, right?

Contrary to that belief, technique and cultural context has been preserved by the communities in which they were born, as it has always been imperative to do so.

When translated outside of those communities, the technique and intentions could sometimes become blurred and misinterpreted.

On another side of that spectrum, technique is preserved but dancers have experimented with executing the styles with different types of music and thus altering musicality and execution.

Examples include waacking to hip hop beats or a live jazz band or battling with vogue against a turfer to his/her music. This also extends to slightly combining styles like hip hop grooves with waacking.

Unless you’re a purist, it isn’t wrong to experiment with styles, since dance is the freedom to be you.

However, to be a responsible dancer, one should try to be aware of the cultural and historical context of the styles they acquire and pass them on along, preserving both the history and authentic technique.

Regardless, waacking and voguing are styles where many find strength and liberation but also where many let go and live.

So waack. Vogue. Be free and be you.

 

Editor’s Note:

Facts in the article were researched by author.
Additional information came from Editor’s interviews with Viktor Manoel. Thank you for all your help and insight!