Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Voguing balls let LGBT Chinese shine ‘fiercely and beautifully’

Voguing balls let LGBT Chinese shine ‘fiercely and beautifully’

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Students stretch during a voguing dance course in preparation for a voguing ball in Beijing on Friday. AFP

Voguing balls let LGBT Chinese shine ‘fiercely and beautifully’

Leather, glitter, stilettos and a strut – voguing, the underground dance phenomenon, has seized Beijing and given China’s LGBT community a “playground” to celebrate their identities.

Sashaying down the runway clad in fake-fur, mile-high wigs and dramatic makeup, performers flaunted poses for an ecstatic audience, powered by a pounding house music soundtrack.

Hundreds of young LGBT Chinese, many travelling from far and wide to attend, packed into the cramped venue for March 27’s event – the first large-scale voguing ball held in Beijing.

With categories including “Butch Queen Realness”, “Drag Queen Lip Sync” and “Voguing Open To All”, performers battled it out to win the judges’ approval – scoring straight 10s – or were eliminated in cut-throat style.

“It’s a playground for marginalised groups,” said 27-year-old organiser Li Yifan, nicknamed “Bazi”, a pillar of China’s quietly flourishing ballroom scene who teaches regular voguing classes in Beijing.

Homosexuality was only declassified as a mental illness in China in 2001. Most LGBT people continue to lead low-key existences due to a fear of largely conservative social norms.

Attendees at a voguing ball feel “a very strong sense of vitality”, Bazi said, “because a lot of sexual and gender minorities express themselves with a spirit of resistance.”

New York to Beijing

The highly stylised dance form developed in the 1980s, but traces its roots to early-20th century New York where an underground ballroom culture blended elements of beauty pageants, modelling and dance contests.

Balls became a safe haven for the LGBT Black and Latino community in particular to socialise and express themselves freely.

Performers grouped into “houses” with a fierce sense of solidarity, which often became a replacement for the birth families that had ostracised them.

Madonna’s 1990 hit Vogue spotlighted the culture, and voguing is now hugely popular in the West, helped by US TV shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Pose.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A contestant performs at the ‘Drag Queen Lip Sync’ competition during a voguing ball in Beijing on Saturday. AFP

It travelled to mainland China relatively recently, after making inroads in Japan, South Korea, and then in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

It is “a subculture within a subculture”, Bazi says, but one that’s now on the verge of going mainstream in mainland China, after emerging out of Shanghai.

“Voguing has really blossomed here in the past two years,” said 23-year-old performer Huahua, who identifies as queer non-binary.

“Right now the scene is very young, but it’s also very enthusiastic and passionate. It’s like cuttings being planted everywhere that are now taking root.”

Huahua, who competed in long braids and a black cape studded with feathers, started voguing in 2016 and immediately fell in love with its elegant movements, which draw inspiration from Old Hollywood films, haute couture fashion spreads and even ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

“You can express your sexuality, your sensuality,” they said, bending down to pose on the floor, making intricate hand movements.

“You’re serving looks on stage like – I’m beautiful and fierce.”

‘Tragic history’

For Huahua, voguing offers an escape from the Beijing rat race and made them feel “truly liberated and happy for the first time”, after an unhappy childhood where they felt marginalised by their gender identity and sexuality.

“It’s already become a part of my life. Every day when I go to the toilet or drink water, I don’t walk normally but in a voguing catwalk style,” they told AFP at their home.

But as the voguing scene matures and inevitably becomes more commercialised, some fear it may lose touch with its radical roots.

“Voguing has a very tragic history; it’s a dance form created out of the sufferings of an entire generation who’ve experienced racism, bigotry, depression,” said Huahua, adding that many forefathers of the scene passed away of AIDS.

In China, it is surprisingly popular with straight women, who like LGBT people are “extremely oppressed by the patriarchy”, according to Bazi.

“Once you learn voguing, you cannot avoid coming into contact with its culture,” said Huahua. “If you want more people to know about it, then they also have to learn the history behind it.”


  • ‘Education’ a priority traffic-law penalty

    A top National Police official on June 21 neither rejected nor confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio message, which has gone viral on social media, on a waiver of fines for a number of road traffic-related offences. General Him Yan, deputy National Police chief in

  • Siem Reap’s $18M zoo said to educate public, help wildlife

    Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium Co Ltd has invested $18 million in a zoo in Siem Reap province, which will be opened in October to educate and promote animal conservation as well as attract national and international tourists. Currently, the Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium is building the

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro

  • Nestle’s debut may spur dairy market

    Leading confectionery manufacturer Nestle plans to invest in Cambodia by setting up an operation in the near future, a move majorly hailed by local dairy farmers as a means of boosting the fresh milk market in the Kingdom. During a visit by a delegation led

  • ACLEDA, WU to enable global money transfers

    Cambodia's largest commercial bank by total assets ACLEDA Bank Plc and global money transfer firm Western Union (WU) have partnered to offer customers cross-border money transfers to 200 countries via “ACLEDA mobile” app. In Channy, president and group managing director of ACLEDA, said the June 22 agreement