News: Dance Workshop - Carmel Köster and Rene Köster

Friday 7 April 2017

It was with trepidation that I tripped into Hackney Showrooms’ studio, decidedly un-femme vogue-like, in a saggy tracksuit. Yet here I was, participating in a voguing workshop, a warm-up for Carmel and Rene Kösters’ performance Werq in Progress as part of the Joy and Dissent Festival week.

What followed was a rare insight into the world of voguing as well as a gruelling workout incorporating contemporary dance techniques, a nifty A to Z demonstration of femme vogue moves, hand and arm gestures and some sweeping lifts from the floor. Simple? Not really.

On the surface, this may look like a case of shaking your booty, but it’s as physically demanding as Ballet barre and as technically rigorous as any traditional movement practice.

Here, though, the platform for expression is different. There are stiff competition rules, break ‘em and you are out. Not only does the technique have to be perfect, but you have to look perfect too.

While this wasn’t going to happen in an afternoon, to give participants a flavour, a more realistic invitation option was offered to ‘explore identity through physicality, dynamics, texture and technique.’

We did this by investigating the body with a warm-up based on Gaga Movement, an Israeli method of movement where the idea is to keep flow continuous by focusing and connecting different parts of the body. It was progressive work, starting from the balls of the feet and travelling upwards until finally – icing on the cake for femme voguing – the finger swirls.

Vogue, as it was first named after the magazine, can be traced back to Harlem, but even before that “it originated from prisons where inmates would sneak in Vogue magazines to re-create this fantasy for glamour,” explains Köster.

From here, it turned into events. Ballroom competitions with strict categories of styles; dance styles, face categories, realness categories – as in how realistically female a gay or transgender male can appear – being just some of the many competitive strands.

Köster, though, is trying to do something a little different. He wants to put the work into a contemporary frame. “We are challenging existing aesthetics. While we keep it all within the structure, we also try and break away – but at all times we have to present ourselves as beautiful.”

Carmel Koster and Rene Koster Werq in Progress as part of Joy! Shorts at Hackney Showroom.

JOY & DISSENT: A festival of cultural activism runs until Sunday 09 April.

Rachel Nouchi is an artist and writer and has recently completed an MA in Movement Direction: Teaching, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

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