i-D

The World’s Most Exciting New Vogue Scene Is in Auckland

How queer Pacific Islanders are challenging conservative values, finding family and creating safe spaces through voguing.
May 9, 2017, 1:00am
Image by Frances Carter.

Saturday nights on Auckland's Karangahape Road are usually crowded. Bars and restaurants glow warmly, welcoming swarms of tourists and locals. And while cheap beer and good bands ensure the crowd is young and well dressed, it's not the beloved, somewhat seedy, red-light strip it once was.

Tonight though, the crowd outside Family Bar draws more attention than usual. Beautiful kids in costumes of leather, plastic, lace, denim and tartan cause passers by to stop in their tracks. The group either doesn't notice or mind, they're used to attention. Some are masters of it.

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Inside the music has begun, growing louder and drawing people away from their final cigarettes and lingering friends. It's already hot but it will get hotter. By the end of the night sweat will drip from the ceiling, the air will be thick and elusive as the crowd gasps for it. Akashi, tonight's MC takes the floor, people swarm her, as naturally as water pools around a stone. She begins, welcoming everyone to tonight's FAFSWAG vogue ball.

Vogue has existed in the US since the mid-70s. Formed and finessed by queer kids in Harlem, it had spread to the rest of New York City by the 80s. If your only reference for the dance style, divided by techniques and houses, wielded as a weapon, is Madonna you're painfully under informed. It feels futile to even describe the moves — posing, dipping, jeering, runway — just YouTube it. Or better still, watch Paris is Burning, the quintessential 1990 documentary that explores New York's intricate vogue ball competitions and culture.

That's what Roy Aati did as a teenager. Spiking this information with clips he found online of dancers around the world, he didn't have any underground clubs near his family home in south Auckland to test out his burgeoning moves. He practiced in his bedroom, in backyards and lounges with the furniture pushed back. "I'd watch Paris is Burning and I felt like I was there one time, like in a past life, all those people seemed like they walked the same path I did," he told i-D. Growing up as a queer pacific islander kid, surrounded by few role models who reflected him, voguing seemed like a point of familiarity. "In general (voguing) just has an attitude that's so me, like: bitch I'm here, bitch I'm queer, and I'm not going anywhere."

"Everyone in Paris is Burning, they were a bit of a lost soul who found solace through the ballroom scene. A lot of them were confused with who they were," he continued. "That speaks for me, I had no one to look up to in the general Polynesian gay community.

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Watch: Auckland's Underground Vogue Scene