Many might associate the word ‘vogue’ with the magazine, or at a stretch, Madonna’s hit 1990 single. But ‘letting your body move to the music’ might be a closer guess than you think. The iconic documentary ‘Paris is Burning’ was also released in 1990, and focuses on artist Paris Dupree’s annual ‘ball’. The Ballroom Scene is a part of the LGBTQ+ subculture that originated in late 20th century New York City, specifically by Black and Latinx drag queens. The documentary is an insightful look into the Golden Age of New York City drag balls, with a lens on race, class, gender, and sexuality.
These balls slowly transitioned from shows of pageantry into voguing battles, inspired by themes like ‘Black and White Drama’ or ‘Latex Eleganza’.
Ballroom culture gave queer people a safe space to survive and thrive, with people who were in the same boat as them, especially during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 80s. It formed a method of self-expression and freedom, especially in a society that was repressed, and even more so in a country like ours, where being anything other than the norm was illegal.
History is proof that India’s drag culture did not start with the advent of the west. According to ancient scriptures and texts, we had many men performing as women — the word ‘drag’ just had not been denoted to it. But with the colonisation of India, and the start of ‘victorian values’ creeping into our lexicon, our society grew to be more homophobic and unaccepting of things that had previously been the norm.
It is only now that India’s voguing culture is catching up. With the start of India’s globalisation in the 90s, and the introduction of the internet, drag queens here were able to watch and learn. India’s big cities have a thriving drag scene, with organisations like Kitty Su and Salvation Star hosting drag nights for the local queer population.
Just recently, two young voguers, Sunil Bormahela and Krish Jain have started ‘Voguing In India’, India’s first platform for ballroom culture. It is a collective of Indian voguers and ballroom enthusiasts, who regularly hold sessions to teach people how to vogue, and also the historical and cultural context of ballroom culture, the runway experience, and more. There is no better way to learn how to vogue than from the source, and Sunil and Krish are both accomplished professional dancers.
With an increasing number of drag performers and a lack of venues, sustaining yourself through drag is not easy. But Sunil and Krish are making the most of their experience. Krish began the platform after finding no ballroom presence in underground dance scenes. He found that meeting and connecting with other queer people was difficult and he had no inspiration to look up to. That’s when he heard about Sunil, who has been a voguer and a whacker in the underground scene for a while now. Standing among all the street dancers, Sunil cuts a lone figure in heels. Sunil joined Krish’s venture, and together they started hosting voguing sessions for people to join and learn. They say, “The sessions create a safe space for people to vogue, with no judgements and no insecurity.” Krish especially is passionate about being able to include the trans community in the new venture and is actively working to spread the word about the sessions and the community that they are building. He says, “Ballroom culture is inclusive, it gives you confidence, and it accepts everyone as they are.”
Though the page has only been active for half a year, Sunil and Krish have big plans for the future. Their plan is to introduce a proper, classic ballroom scene in India, and to have elders from the community in international scenes in Paris and New York come and teach here. They say, “Establishing an already existing culture in a new place is hard — you have to abide by certain rules and do it properly, otherwise elders in the community may feel disrespected. There is a lot of pressure.”
They also want to spread knowledge about ballroom ‘houses’ and having ‘mothers and fathers’ for young, disadvantaged queer people here. They give me a queer history lesson, telling me that in past times when parents in the west disowned their children for being queer, elder queer people from the community ‘adopted’ them, and filled the role of a parent. Being a mother or a father is not restricted by gender, but it is the creation of a house to support and care for their children.
This is Krish and Sunil’s way of giving back to the community and they have found immense support both at home and internationally. They have learning that people want to help out in whatever way they can. With an increasing number of drag performers and a lack of venues, sustaining yourself through drag and voguing is not easy. But Sunil and Krish are making the most of their experience. It is also their hope that the scene will continue to grow, and that people will be more open-minded and curious to learn about the art form. It is clear that they are both passionate individuals, with a fire for change. What started in New York is now a global movement, and will always remain a refuge for queer people of colour.
You can follow IndianVoguingScene here.
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