Social Innovation

Meet the dancer putting a Brazilian spin on New York vogue

© Red Bull Amaphiko
By Emma Warren
We meet São Paulo-based vogue dancer Fênix to see how she's putting some Brazilian flavour into the famous New York style.
Our Footwork Five video series introduces a dancer who’s making a difference in society and asks them to show us some moves.
Ahead of the return of Red Bull Music and Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras’s Sissy Ball event this February 23, curated once again by Sydney interdisciplinary dancer and artist Bhenji Ra, we revisit our 2018 showcase of Brazilian vogue dancer Fênix.
What's your relationship with vogue and ballroom culture?
I’m a dancer, performer, fashionista and dance graduate. After 15 years dancing multiple styles, I saw vogue as a welcoming place, somewhere I could belong. In the ballroom scene I can transgress, fight racism, LGBTphobia and collaborate with my black sisters against sexism and misogyny. Vogue dancing and ballroom are not only about love, as many people think and promote it, it’s about disagreeing and proposing changes to the racist, LGBTphobic and misogynistic society that we live in. Dancing vogue is not just about having fun, it’s about fighting.
House of Zion started in NYC and is a ‘mainstream’ one, which means it was founded by someone who contributed at least 10 years to the ballroom scene. In this case, legendary icon Pony Zion, who, after an artistic residency in 2016 in São Paulo, nominated Félix Pimenta the father and Eduardo KON the mother of our chapter. There are also branches in Rio de Janeiro and Brasília. In SP, we get together to discuss and practise voguing. We also run balls in partnership with Coletivo Amem. Our main intention is to understand that we need to take care of each other, artistically, psychologically or physically."
Are the houses structured as families? How does it work?
Historically, the houses were substitute families for black and latino LGBT youth that have been kicked out of their homes and were found in the margins of society. This was the beginning of ballroom culture in NYC. Back in those days, it was more common to see parents, sons and daughters living together. The context today is different, but there's still the idea of support and care between the individuals. There aren’t only vogue dancing houses, but also runway, for example. Each house has its format, its values and activities, just like any other family.
What is Coletivo Amem?
We see ourselves as a family of black artists in which some are HIV positive, including myself. We produce Festa AMEM, a party that is a gathering space for dialogue and exchange between black LGBT people. Our proposal is to give voice and visibility to the black, female and LGBT communities. The collective’s priority is to provoke, instigate and rethink the world. We discuss the freedom of the black female body, the objectification and fetishisation of black bodies, black homo and bisexual affectivity, silencing and stigmas surrounding HIV, and marginal and black populations’ health. We act in communications, arts and culture, advocacy, community development, education and public health. It’s worth emphasising that in 2017 we were elected, via popular vote, the best party by Guia Folha UOL [one of the main news portals in Brazil] and we were cited in the list of 10 social initiatives for the LGBT community to watch in São Paulo, by HuffPost Brazil.
How do you support black and HIV positive youth?
My body has always been my main weapon against silencing, deletion and death of black population, but only recently I’ve been getting opportunities to talk about it. I found out I’m HIV positive about two years and a few months ago. I’m from Alagoas [in north-east Brazil] and have been living in São Paulo for about nine months. At Coletivo Amem and House of Zion I felt the need to speak openly. Being open, especially on social media, I’ve been receiving questions from black youth about HIV prevention, treatment and side effects.
What are the plans for the year ahead?
Like the majority of black artists groups, we’re independent. In the first weeks of 2018 Coletivo Amem encouraged black men and women to test themselves for HIV and syphilis, aiming to know our current health state so that we can plan the year with multiple activities. We’ll be doing referrals and follow-ups and educating about pre-exposure and post-exposure prevention, reflecting on treatment, side effects and damage reduction. Coletivo Amem and House of Zion BRA will get together again in the end of January for the second edition of the Ball Vera Verão (Vera Summer Ball), inspired by the iconic moments of the 1990s. A tribute to Jorge Lafond’s famous character Vera Summer, it’s a way to mark his contribution to building the black LGBT community in this country and claiming opportunities and rights for us.
Red Bull Music and Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras’s Sissy Ball event takes place February 23 at Carriageworks. Full details here.