Somewherelse Spotlight: Voguing in the Time of Quarantine with Ralph Escamillan 

Issue 4 | Metamorphosis

There has been a popular narrative that while we’re all locked down in our homes we should be doing something to better ourselves. Some of us have baked bread, taken up fitness classes, while others have been compelled to create. Putting a metric next to one’s creativity, especially in the time of quarantine, seems like too much of an ask. It’s a pandemic, first and foremost. There are many other ways for us to feel accomplished or good or not and that’s fine.

Let’s look to Ralph Escamillan in Vancouver who, as an accomplished dancer in a myriad of disciplines like breakdancing, jazz, and ballet to name a few, has been working with the Van Vogue Jam to teach soon-to-be voguers how to absolutely work it. Escamillan has positively impacted the community during quarantine, continuously gathering people digitally to help them hone their vogue skills. 

Ball culture has its roots in the Black and Latinx queer communities of New York City, reaching as far back to the 1930s. Madonna, of course, popularized it with her track “Vogue” but ball culture and vogue dancing has always been more intricate and gregarious than what the pop song permeated to the mainstream. (Paris Is Burning gives us a better look at the dramatic and competitive nature of vogue in 1980s New York.)

Before the pandemic, Van Vogue Jam offered introductory classes with Escamillan, the mother of Vancouver’s burgeoning ball scene. Vogue is still relatively new out West. Escamillan helped put on Vancouver’s first vogue ball in 2017 and has since nurtured the scene to grow and build, holding them semi-annually thereafter. Class attendees join Escamillan to learn a new skill but also become part of a community. Many attendants love these classes because voguing is a real means of expression. As much as people train for the balls, attending classes and going to the gym, some members attend to feel their confidence boost, see their support for one another flourish, and simply be part of something that they care for. 

Now, with the in-person element removed, Escamillan has, like many others, turned to Zoom to connect with and keep morale up during isolation. First, there was the #quarantinevoguechallenge, with Escamillan serving it up here. Soon, the Van Vogue Jam offered Zoom classes focused on vogue fundamentals as well as runway and choreography. The Van Vogue Jam calendar has at least three Zoom classes offered each week, running well into the month of May. All classes are meant for introductory students and accessible for those without dance experience. On July 29th, Escamilan, with the Van Vogue Jam, will work in partnership with the Vancouver Pride Society for the first Annual Bougie Ball via Zoom. Escamilan says, “This will be a Kiki Vogue Ball event, with judges from all around Canada and U.S. with cash and sponsored prizes for the winners of each category.”

Other artists and creatives have adapted because of the pandemic, so it seems organic that Escamillan’s classes would follow this path. Distance has, in many ways, brought us together even more. And voguing, as personal as it is, is very communal, participatory and bombastic. Absent are the in-person cheers and encouragement, as well as the audience at the ball proper, but it is with unadulterated optimism that one believes those will occur again. Any effort now to gather and support the community enriches it, even through technological means like Zoom classes or Instagram Lives.

Written by Sarah MacDonald
Lead Graphic by Marta Ryczko
Photos courtesy of Ralph Escamillan