During his first visit to a gay club, Jack sat in disbelief: There was a room full of people just like him. That same night, he received an invite to a ball two weeks later. That’s how he was first introduced into the culture of the House Ballroom Community in which different houses compete at balls in vogue battles. At that particular ball, the House of Mizrahi, founded by Andre Mizrahi and named after fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, was born. Two weeks later, Jack became a member, taking the house name of Mizrahi as his own.
While Jack, now a world-renowned ballroom community icon known as Icon and MC Jack Mizrahi, learned to vogue in clubs, member’s homes (including Andre’s one-bedroom basement apartment in New York City), and at parties and says there was “no such thing as rehearsal,” now, fitness is practically a required part of performance. Today’s vogue calls for core and leg strength, balance, stamina, focus, and recovery. “There are a lot of moves out there today that I wish were out back then because I would have loved to partake,” says Jack. “These kids have added such a level of athleticism to this evolving style of vogue.” New styles are more elaborate, he says, involving gravity-defying dips, lifts, stretching, contortionism, acrobatics, and a demand for cardio.
But ultimately, vogue remains a celebration of the magnificence of culture. “For us, vogue is not a science. It’s a dance that is conditioning your body at the same time—and it’s a power because of our culture,” says Jack.
“Without voguing, I would not have found myself,” says Icon Leiomy Maldonado. “I would not have known how to express certain emotions that I didn't know how to express verbally.” She’s one of seven athletes featured both below and in a new film from Equinox out this June, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. The short feature honors the power of modern trans women of color in their element.
To help you try your hand at vogue, the films’ stars detailed seven key elements they have mastered and the prep work that builds a body strong enough to perform. “The more you train, the more your body can do; and you never know what you can do, so don’t dismiss yourself,” says Icon Leiomy Maldonado.
Equinox’s new film also supports House Lives Matter, a community organizing and mobilizing initiative for and created by the House Ball Community, comprised of sexual and gender minority people of color (LGBTQ and gender non-conforming). Our mission is to improve health and wellness, build alliances, abide deeply in our ancestral and historical roots, and provide mentoring to create leaders who take direct action to have an impact on social change.
How-to: Move your hands to music by focusing first on your fingers (as you would if you were doing “spirit fingers”) then bring the movement to your wrists as if you were bending them back and forth against a wall (almost like ‘breaking’ at your wrist joint). Glide your hands around to tell your story.
Performance secret: “I run so I can have the ability to go back-to-back in performances and not be out of breath. It’s a good way to prepare yourself. You could say you're building your stamina.”
How-to: Before moving, pick a spot by looking at one thing in the room. Then, slowly start to twirl, spinning around while looking at your spot so that you don’t get dizzy. You should stay in one place while spinning.
Performance secret: “To physically and mentally prepare for a role, I stretch, work out, and drink a lot of water.”
How-to: Start standing up then using your leg strength, crouch down into a curl, lowering yourself down onto one knee with the other leg back behind you. Sit back and let one leg straighten out in front of you while bending upper body back on floor into the dip.
Performance secret: “Sometimes as dancers we just want to get out there and enjoy the music but I definitely like to do warm-ups. Warm-ups are very important because you don't want to hurt yourself.”
How-to: Start standing up then pop your hip while crouching your knees. Take one step after another, swaying hips. Speed up to match movement to a beat.
Performance secret: “I love cardio. I love indoor cycling. Cardio is a big part of voguing. You sweat like a dog. You’re moving around, striking different poses, holding those poses, strengthening your muscles, and using your muscles.”
How-to: Lying on the floor, move as an expression, like you’re dancing on the ground.
Performance secret: “Yoga relieves all the muscles and stress by stretching and just being calm.”
How-to: In a crouched position, incorporating your whole body, sway neck and hair side to side, in ‘figure 8’ motions, or whip it, moving to music.
Performance secret: “I do back-to-back rehearsals and then yoga to really center myself and get my mind mentally prepared. I have to give it my all.”
How-to: Before doing this move, prepare by balancing a book on both your palms and crouching up and down, trying to stay in one place as much as possible. Once you feel balanced, in a crouched position, take small ‘steps’ moving hands and arms to music.
Performance secret: “The duck walk is very hard to do. You need to have a lot of balance and strong legs and calves.”