voguelesque is the newest dance craze sweeping the japanese underground
Mixing stripping, pole dancing, voguing, Voguelesque is the art of throwing shade whilst getting your kit off.
Voguing, the art of throwing shade, being fabulous and working your angles, has been en vogue more times than the little black dress. Originally it belonged to gay working class black kids of 70s Harlem who threw opulent balls emulating white, wealthy, debutante culture - a culture that was and perhaps still is unobtainable. 40 years later and Japan has got its hands on it and of course, it's very Japanese.
Friday night in Toganocho, downtown Osaka, in amongst the Love Hotels and vending machines exists a hidden gem, the Do With Cafe. Drag queen waitresses welcome me with the obligatory formalities and the glamorous proprietor Foxy, enters stage left. She's dressed to kill, wielding a bottle of Moet and a plate of beef jerky, apparently its my welcoming platter - Japanese hospitality is incomparable.
I'm here to see VSensation, the home of an emerging club subculture that's been baptised voguelesque; an amalgamation of cabaret, burlesque, vogue and waacking (Google it) - its essentially throwing shade whilst getting your kit off.
The event is co-founded by Monica Mizrahi and Chycca Tatsumi. Monica is a diabetes doctor by day that found vogue via Madonna. After four visits to NYC to learn his trade and a few appearances on Japanese telly, Monica knew he had to set up a own space for Japanese kids. "If you are not a street dancer in Japan," he explains, "there is no way of earning money or entering the dance competition as a voguer." Chycca an ex-Boombox club kid moonlights as a burlesque aerial performer in a local show bar - suddenly it becomes easier to see how the two art forms of voguelesque were smashed together.
The kids start to arrive and prepare for their three minutes of fame, Showto aka Showta Ninja, VSenstations most promising rising star tells me how he found vogue: "my Mum ran a show bar, it had newhalf (transgendered people) in it. I didn't know the word for gay then I was young so didn't know it was a gay thing."
The acts take to the stage, Chycca introduces them in Japanese English - being foreign is exotic, NYC and London cool still have currency here. Pole dancers vogue on poles, vogue dancers pole dance, flesh is on show and Showta and his dance partner Ricchan give us the middle finger after the tightest vogue routine I've seen in a long time. It's now the turn of the founders and housemothers of VSensation. Chycca and Dr Monica perform provocative, overly sexual vogue routines with gloves, veils and fake money flying everywhere. Each act explores sex, money and an overtly public expression of personality - these are risqué subject matters for a crowd of Japanese kids in Boy London tracksuits.
The audience cheer their favourite act and 'ohhh' every time someone removes a costume. After the show, Chycca corners me outside, she wants to make sure I include a few things in my article: "I am not a couple with Monica, you need to write that. Secondly the Japanese law on stripping has changed - they don't want stripping theatres anymore, they are now closing. Stripping means we can show our story," I look confused, perhaps it's the bubbles so she elaborates, "…it allows us to be beauty, be ourselves and tell our story - vogue does the same thing. VSensation is about keeping that alive. After spending time in London I see that people have nightclubs to express themselves, I just want that here."
Family pride is evidently as fierce as the Harlem houses, as the kids emerge from the dressing room they are wearing the appropriate house merchandise that show their alliance.
The shows finish and DJ Koppi takes to the decks and begins chanting over the pumped up house tracks. I'm over queens saying the words hunty, yesss or werk into a microphone so I'm not expecting much. She begins rapping about her vagina, its identity and why she isn't interested in the size of her partner's genitals - this is feminist chanting of the highest order.
As the night draws to an end, I too am now also convinced that Asia's next biggest counter culture is voguelesque - its fun, bold and unrestrictive but unlike Japans other club trends its not very Japanese.
At the start of the night I was sceptical that VSensation could be accused of cultural appropriation, after all vogue culture was born out of racial inequality and just because Madonna exploited it, its doesn't make it OK. I was worried it would be as naff as a British Pub in Tokyo and after spending 4 weeks in Asia, I'm keen the continent retains its own identity - its already obsessed with being 'more western' with eye crease creators in every drug store and photobooths for teens that automatically widen your eyes but Vsensation isn't like your lazy East London Paris is Burning appropriation. It's reactive - to Japanese authoritarianism, to patriarchy, to misogyny, to homophobia. It's feminist, queer and wonderfully political.
When I provocatively asked one of the performers what it is about an art form that belongs to gay black kids of America and the back streets of Parisian cabaret clubs that appeals to him, he responded 'the freedom of expression' and surely that's universal.
Photography Shohei Satoh & Kyouhei Mori