If you took a Women’s Studies or Gender Studies class in college you’ve probably heard about Jenny Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, the first big portrait of the New York black and latino queer voguing and house ballroom scene. And if you haven’t seen it, it’s on Netflix so GO WATCH IT RIGHT NOW. Drag balls have been around since the Harlem Renaissance and by the 1990s, voguing as a dance form crept out of the underground and into the mainstream. Today voguing and house ball culture are no longer limited to cities like Detroit, New York, DC or Atlanta. It’s a global dance craze, with balls happening in London, Berlin, Helsinki and Stockholm. You can watch voguing videos on YouTube, which is how a lot of people first come in touch with the form.
As voguing has evolved and become more international, DJ Vjuan Allure has been right in the center of the hotness. A prolific DJ, remixer and producer, Allure (of the House of Allure) is one the biggest DJs of the underground ballroom scene and the mastermind behind the “Ha Dance.” We caught up with Allure and talked about what it was like recording a song with Diplo, how Jersey Shore gave birth to commercial electronic dance music, and what it takes to get “chopped” at a ball.
Where are you now? It seems like you are always traveling.
Yes! I’m in the States until September.
Are you promoting a new record?
Well, I’m promoting plenty of records. The Digital Krash EP, the one with Diplo, the song I just did with Todd Terry and so many other people in the bass scene. I also picked up European, Australian, and UK representation. So now I have agencies that are booking me and they’re starting off with September.
Nice! What cities are you actually hitting up?
I’m going to Berlin, I’m going to London, I’m crossing my fingers to hit my hometown of Napoli.
Can I tell you that I’m obsessed with Berlin right now?
The funny thing about Berlin is one of the first people who taught me how to speak Italian lives in Berlin, and one of my best friends just moved from Naples to Berlin. So it’s going to be fun, one way or the other.
Are these tours connected to the voguing scene or are you just DJing?
Yes, these are ballroom scene, voguing scene beats. That’s what they want. And actually my agency, they just got an eye-opener because they said, “Hey, you play other stuff as well!” But for the most part, these are for that specifically.
You’re one of the top DJs in the voguing scene. What exactly is voguing?
The voguing scene is actually a part of the underground house scene. You could liken it to a sports team: we have people that we cheer for, people have rivalries. But still and all, people get along. Some rivalries are worse than others, but that’s pretty much what it is. Instead of going up to bat, you have people that walk runway, you have people that vogue, you have people who are models, people who have body, these are your players on your team. And instead of coming out and hitting the ball on one of the bases, they compete and get judged.
What was your introduction to the scene?
I was part of the house stepping community. I used to house step. I saw people that were voguing in the clubs. One night I actually sat at a club in New York and watched two people vogue. It took my breath away because as a dancer you look at it and you say, you can do anything you want to do to that dance. It was as limitless as house stepping. The style I learned was the old way. It was very martial arts influenced.
Like Willi Ninja?
VA: Yeah. And I would watch them and it became a fascination. I wanted to do it and I had so much awe that I never asked them to teach me to do it. But I did learn.
Were you exposed to Paris Is Burning at the time you discovered voguing?
I was eleven or twelve years old and I loved nightlife. When I got into the parties that I could get into, as far as being that young, I would do what they call “break a circle.” They took me to the real clubs because I started to get a reputation. No one carded me, but they knew who I was with and they just let me in. And that is basically how I got into the clubs themselves. Around that time Paris Is Burning was being done. I met many people who were in that movie.
Voguing has exploded in Europe. I was in Paris over the summer and you introduced me to one of the people who is getting the voguing scene hot there. Can you talk about the evolution of voguing from Detroit, New York, DC, to Europe? Does this internationalization distill the culture any?
Well as somebody who looked at it from the outside, who is in it, and who became Legendary for it, who is making music for it, I know the reason why it exploded. In the States they do dance competitions – house steppers and all that stuff. We had a competition here called House Dance International. The first year that they did it they had Andre Mizrahi and Javier Ninja come out. At the time, the evolution of YouTube was here. So when YouTube came up, the clips went out to other countries, people started to look at it and they wanted to do it. Then some of these competitions overseas started to have voguing. And they brought some of the kids from here over there, and they started to teach and do workshops and it just got bigger and bigger. Now, thanks to YouTube again, the kids got thirsty looking for voguing clips and came across Vogue Knights and balls and started to have vogue night competitions and they started to have competitions like we are.
I saw a HILARIOUS YouTube video that MikeQ, one of your colleagues, put on Facebook. It’s a video of a boy teaching people how to vogue. His comment was, “This is how you get chopped at a ball.” “Chopped,” of course, meaning eliminated.
…And it’s true (laughs)
Is this the one with the “gay yo-yos”? THAT IS COMICAL. And let me tell you – it’s hilarious and there is truth to it, and you can see this person learning a little bit of something. But he’s not ready to teach anyone. It is hilarious. He is not ready to teach anyone.
Right, but how does anyone learn to vogue?
When you learn to vogue you learn the technique, meaning you know what to do, you know what a dip is, you know what a spin is. But you have to learn and do it your way. The problem with most of the kids overseas and on YouTube is that I can look at them and tell exactly where they got their moves from. Because they’re mimicking, and a lot of them are doing choreography, they’re doing a routine. But when you tell them to go vogue by themselves, they can’t do it. And that’s what they need to do. Voguing is improvised, comes from the top of your head. You dance how you feel with the music.
So the guy with that YouTube video is trying to teach the moves he saw someone else do?
To me it’s like, he’s just talking to his friends and he just put a YouTube clip up there. That’s not voguing. And what he’s doing in his clip is not voguing either, but he has something. That’s why people who watch the video say that’s how you get chopped at a ball, because if you do that…you will!