This is an interview made by Tatiana Pismenskaya. She is a student at Kulturverkstan, Gothenburg. Here she interviews her student colleague Alyssa Chloé.
I met Alyssa Chloé at Kulturverkstan education centre in Gothenburg where we are both in the two-year course for international cultural project management. I saw Alyssa introducing her dancing at the Gothenburg Stora Teatern recently. I was fascinated by the dance style. So I wanted to know more.
Video from Urban Anarchy/Stora Teatern Presentation : ”Werk: Expression from Oppression.”
Alyssa Chloé is a dancer and a top ambassador for Voguing on the Swedish dance scene. Born and raised in the USA, she grew up in Chicago, started dancing when she was 7 in Jazz, modern, ballet. As she moved to NYC, she was introduced to the underground dance scene. After years of establishing herself as a dancer and teacher in NYC, she moved in new directions. London in 2012, then Sweden in 2013. Now she lives in Gothenburg where she works as a dancer and teacher and also as event producer and student.
Vogue is a dance and performance–based style that was created and developed by the Black and Latino LGBTQ+ community in NYC’s underground. The style is directly influenced and inspired from Vogue Magazine, as well as fashion and runway.
Vogue gained attention in the mainstream through Madonna’s Vogue video, while movies such as Paris is Burning and the most recent Kiki and Strike a Pose have brought attention to the artform. In Sweden Vogueing was first introduced about ten years ago.
To my first question – Alyssa, what does Voguing mean for you? – the answer comes with the dancer’s precision of striking a pose:
An empowered expression of self, an escape, a tool for survival, artistic armour, avant garde …
Next, as I ask – Why did you choose specifically this type of dancing? – there’s the beginning of her story:
It chose me. I was introduced to the scene shortly after I moved to NYC in 2003. There I became deeply involved in the underground dance scene. I met and saw lots of legends and icons of the dance and ballroom scene there. I established a friendship with the Grandfather of the House of Ninja, Archie Burnett, and the current Father of the House of Ninja, Javier Ninja, through hanging out in the clubs.
In 2006, the legendary founder Willie Ninja passed away; after that Benny Ninja, the Father of the House of Ninja at the time, began opening their house to train more dancers outside of just Vogue because many opportunities were coming their way for performances.
I was eventually recruited and was invited to join the house in 2011 by Benny – funny enough in Sweden, lol. Benny, Archie, and Javier began training many to Vogue – from all over the world, especially in Europe.
Voguing being such a great part of her life, it seemed evident that there was a beginning for her long before she was eventually recruited to the House of Ninja. So, how did you first get in contact with it?
It was first through TV, when I was 9. Willie Ninja was then a part of a documentary that I saw on PBS, and he was explaining about Vogue. The documentary was called Everybody Dance Now. Then when I moved to NYC, I was introduced to it through friends and gatherings like parties, balls,etc.
At the time the Vogue scene was separate from the hip hop and house scene. Vogue was presented mainly in Harlem and Midtown Manhattan.There was a place in Harlem called the Clubhouse that was mainly a gathering of young people.They played mainstream hip hop till 2 am, and then transformed into a Vogue event, a kind of mini ball. There was also Escuelitas in Manhattan that had regular events for a while, where the bigger balls took place – like the Latex Ball, in which all the major houses would come and participate.
Today Alyssa Chloé is a main figure in Swedish Vogue. And I want to know how did she become an expert in the field? I’d say, there’s both humility, self-appreciation and ambition in her answer:
I do not call myself an expert. I am work in progress. The style that I have had the longest time practicing is Vogue’s sister style from LA, Punking/Whacking, which was the most difficult to learn because it was based from LA. Many of its originators and pioneers were gone, and there was very little information about it, but I really took to that one. I resisted Vogue for a while, so I would not mix up the dances because the intention and mindset of these styles are quite different.
So, when I finally felt I learned that style, I was able to immerse myself in Vogue authentically. It was a challenge to keep my autonomy. I had to learn the hard way not to get caught in the Svengali effect many teachers have, and do my thing alone. Not out of disrespect to the elders, but to fulfill my contribution to the art in a greater way and learn through experience.
Voguing is not just a dance but a life style. So, how did it influence her life? Again, her answer comes with precision:
It has given me confidence to handle life’s tests and face the world. It is also giving me an opportunity to enhance my creativity and self expression greatly.
Alyssa has mentioned some of the artists she found the most fascinating in the community at the time when she started Voguing. So I ask her to tell me a little more about them.
All of them were and still are special and gifted for different reasons. There were so many in scene who were just brilliant and unusually gifted. But I will have to say Willie Ninja was such a gift, not only as an artist but as a human being and ambassador for this art. He was a game changer in a huge way. His passing was and still is painful, a great loss to community in NYC and at large.
Willie was actually the one who brought Vogue in the 1980s all over the world. Archie and Benny Ninja continued to introduce the dance to mainly Europe and Asia through workshops for the last 10 years. Voguing was first introduced to Gothenburg in 2009 or 2010, then I moved here in 2013 and been teaching mainly since.
Sweden, right! How were things for you here to begin with?
In Stockholm it was pretty successful because many Swedish dance students traveled over to NYC for training . When I came to Gothenburg however, things were very slow and Voguing still unheard of. There was an interest from people who had nothing to do with Vogue culture. They just would try to appropriate it for different things, so that, to me, was a cue to keep going with it and really find the right audience for it.
First I started by teaching in various schools in Gothenburg and conducting workshops in various parts of Sweden, then finally organizing events and balls here.
You have your own company now, what kind?
Urban Anarchy is my own company, and Exposé is now an organization. Well…nothing difficult yet, but tax season is making me nervous. LOL
Can you compare doing business of this kind in the USA/UK and in Sweden? What differences are there?
Well for starters, most dancers that come over from the States are invited by organizers, sometimes illegally, but nonetheless, long time ago one could make really good money and travel. Now the standards have changed completely: artists now coming from the States are earning less, or have to lower their rates to stay relevant, which I am against. I think, if you have put in the time and are an expert in your field, you should be paid top dollar, and have everything taken care of. But now highly talented world class artists are coming out of pocket to just say they are out here. It should not be that way.
Also, in Europe there are more resources for culture specifically, and organizers here are not as honest as they could be about that. They do cut corners, or mislead a lot of Americans on the business end.
It is much easier for someone like me to do more with my craft, and think outside of the box business-wise, because there are more resources that can be accessed. Versus in the States where finding spaces and resources is very difficult.
There is more of an opportunity in Europe to establish a niche than back home if you learn how the business and how organizations work.
Were there any people who gave you inspiration or support on your way to developing Voguing in Sweden? In Gothenburg?
Creatively, my inspiration comes from my life situations mainly. My memories and experiences from NYC inform and influence me as well, but people such as Martina at my base, World Dance Company, K.Sun, who is DJ, dancer and organizer, were instrumental and supportive in helping me establish myself here. It is very difficult to do since most people in the dance scene here are very separate and closed on a certain level. Often, people are very hesitant to give anyone a chance no matter how established you are.
What kind of events did you and your team arrange or take part in?
Exposé was an event I organized first with K.Sun and another dancer Nicole. It was the first ball in Gothenburg. The second year, along with Edwin Safari, we organized the Revolution Ball: Fashion not Fascism for West Pride at the Världskulturmuseét which was quite huge. This year we will team up with Europride at Stora Teatern and Gothenburg Dans och Teater Festivalen to curate the Decades Ball: A History of Slay-Age at Pustervik Friday 17 August. My team are mostly dancers and performers who are active either in the streetdance or Vogue ballroom culture scene or the LGBTQ+ community.
So – I ask – what’s happening now and in the future?
Right now I have to take a break to focus on my education, so I had to peel back. But it depends on the season. Sometimes I have classes, workshops or rehearsals, or I have to organize an event. That can take up a lot of time as well, and as an independent artist, when it rains it pours, so I am either super busy or I have downtime period.
What, then, are your most immediate plans?
Finish my education, produce more work here, and then maybe head back home.
Before finishing, I’m curious to know from Alyssa, what she has learned on her journey towards success.
Is there anything you wish you did another way?
Yeah 😊 But when you know better you do better and it will hopefully inform your journey further.
Anything you would like to improve?
My Swedish, my bankkonto and my ability to make genuine connections and friends here LOL
As I ask my last but one question – Is there anything you are proud of? Sad? – Alyssa gives me a list that rounds up her experience as an artist and performer in Sweden:
Proud of :
- my ability to survive in a foreign land especially Sweden for this long. That was not really my choice … but wound up being where I was supposed to be.
- where I come from and my experiences
- to be able to follow my passion and share my gift in all these different areas, different people, different cultures and in other ways
- to be able to take a risk and have faith in my talent
- to stay strong when things are very uncertain
- not conforming
- of the relationships and situations with people I face – from abuse, betrayal, dishonesty. To disrespect for me as an artist and a person … normally it would not phase me so much, but when you are new to a country, it is really hard. I am still processing that … but again these dances and staying creatively focused helps me stay balanced and sane.
- That the dance scene here is not very supportive beyond themselves and do not see a greater vision or purpose beyond their ego. I come from that world, and at the end that selfish mentality does more damage than good.
- that I cannot relate to this society in a way I am comfortable with, but then again it drives to stay sharp creatively and shake it up.
And finally – Do you have anything to advise your colleagues in the field of arts, especially those who have just come here ?
Learn about the society so you can understand how to relate what you do, within its structure. Document everything because people will take advantage of you if you have a great idea, especially new people. Establish some kind of formality with your business like a company or certification. And lastly be patient. People can be very slow to new ideas here, more than usual. So give it time.
Interviewer: Tatiana Pismenskaya
Editing: Tatiana Pismenskaya and David Dickson
Here’s a list of links to some of our recent posts about current art and artists (there’s much more, so you’re welcome to browse freely):
AW, Wahlgren, Mick C: Pirater; Nadja Itäsaari: Talking to Trees; Jessica Fleetwood; Alexander Bard; Ellinor Karlsson; The Soft Revolution of Goth Punk Poetry; Carolina Falkholt at Thomassen’s Gallery; Ulrika Hydman Vallien VIDA konstmuseum; Västsvenska Filmdagarna 2017 – Virtual Reality