Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn has never had a globally renowned fashion week, but at The Lab on this sweltering Thursday night in June, the wooden floorboards at the warehouse-cum-club have been turned into a makeshift runway. As bootleg house remixes of Lil Wayne, Huey and The-Dream play, a procession of guys, dolls and trannies command attention in tailored streetwear. They show off perfectly refined pauses and turns and perform studied, fabulous head flips as professional and glamorous as any couture model.
But this is just the warm up. It’s still only 2 AM, and the party’s got a good five, six hours left in it. Every twenty minutes a new crew rolls up, looking stretched, focused and probably too young to be out this late on a weeknight. By three, the ubiquitous vogue ball MC named The Legendary Selvin Kool Aid Givenchy commands the mic and begins announcing other
doyennes of the scene in time to the never-faltering rhythm. Members of each house—Ninja, Mizrahi, Xtravaganza, Chanel—stride to the floor as if they’re being summoned to a royal line up. And as they hit the prime focal point, they begin to vogue. But what follows is nothing as primitive as “strike a pose.” The dance has evolved from the intricate hand motions and couture walks of its early days to complex, even acrobatic, displays of technique and style. There are the pirouettes of ballerinas and body contortions worthy of master yogis. These dancers are not amateurs. The signature move, the dip, is also the most impressive: coming off a back-bend or a quadruple spin, voguers propel themselves onto the floor with mach force and land flat on their backs—one foot tucked behind them, one foot straight out or hovering in the air. By now the dip is an expected bit of choreography—in a battle, it’s the requisite move for maximum judge impressing— but it never ceases to look fantastic, an otherworldly mutation of the catwalk strut: part model, part aerialist, part angel.