Sunday, June 26

Waacking forever! Why has the martial arts craze for disco dance resurfaced in Asia? | Dance

WWhen Cheryl Song stepped onto the all-black set of Soul Train in 1976, she was met with stony silence that was followed by some threats, then a woman growling, “Who does that tall yellow bitch think she is?” Two friends from school had brought Song to Don Cornelius’ groundbreaking TV show as a kind of joke, assuming they wouldn’t select her due to her Asian ancestry. But Song, “the long-haired Asian girl,” went on to dance on the show for 14 years. “It doesn’t matter what color you are,” he says, “you’re there to dance and have fun.”

In those early days on Soul Train, waacking, an impromptu dance done to disco music that incorporated elements of martial arts, quick arm movements, poses, and a celebrated attitude, was beginning to go mainstream. As a straight Asian woman, Song had little in common with waacking’s LGBTQ + origins, being an unapologetic dance that was born out of oppression. However, she loved it. “It was direct, it was a strong move, and it was dramatic,” she says.

Powered by a group called The Outrageous Waack Dancers (Tyrone Proctor, Jeffrey Daniel, Jody Watley, Sharon Hill, Cleveland Moses Jr and Kirt Washington), waacking came to the show from the gay black and Latino clubs of Los Angeles. Soon John Travolta was mimicking her movements on Saturday Night Fever, while Donna Summer and Cicely Tyson performed them on stage.

Imitating movements ... John Travolta on Saturday Night Fever.
Imitating movements … John Travolta on Saturday Night Fever. Photograph: Allstar Picture Library / Alamy

But in the late 1980s, when the disco era ended and AIDS devastated the queer community, it disappeared from popular culture. That is, until the early 2000s, when he saw an unlikely resurgence thanks to “waacking father” Proctor, who died last year, and his mentee. Princess Lockerooo. They traveled the world leading workshops and judging competitions. In Asia, it really caught on.

Nelson George, author of The most modern trip in America: Soul Train and the evolution of culture and style, believes that dancing went from being a full-body to a waist-up affair because Proctor had damaged his hips from years of dancing and began teaching it differently. In places like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea, rapid hand and arm movements predominate.

Whatever it is, waacking is a form of escapism and a defiant rebuttal of conservative norms that is well suited to Asia, where LGBTQ + rights are not what they are in the West. “The power of waacking comes from pressure,” says Taiwanese waacker Akuma. It is danced by people who have to hide in their day-to-day lives, so when they have the opportunity to be themselves at the disco, “the energy explodes”.

Hong Kong waacker Ryan keeps his sexuality hidden from the school where he teaches for fear of attracting homophobic insults. Waacking offers you a way to explore your sexuality in a city where gay marriage is not yet recognized. “In life, many things are not under your control,” he says. “You don’t have much room to express who you are because you are expected to fulfill certain roles. But in a club or in a encryption session, I can really be myself, as feminine or sexy as I would like to be, without the judgment of others. “

The father of waacking… Tyrone Proctor on Bandstand with Sharon Hill.
The father of waacking… Tyrone Proctor on Bandstand with Sharon Hill. Photograph: ABC Photo Archives / Walt Disney Television / Getty Images

Through simple, dynamic poses and arm exercises, waackers focus on rhythm and finding a style to show their personality. “When I dance other styles,” says Akuma, “it’s like living in the shadow of the people. When I dance waacking, I am celebrating myself and people like me. In Asia, mothers tell girls: ‘You have to be a lady and you have to be polite.’ And parents tell children: ‘You have to be a man, you cannot cry or show your vulnerable face to the public.’

The sense of empowerment at the core of Waacking also resonates with cisgender women in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan. Chrissy Chou, Maya Chou, Monika Shin, Lip J, and Ibuki Imata have accumulated thousands of followers on Instagram with their strong poses and attitudes. If you search for waacking on YouTube, you will find a host of battles at festivals such as Supernova, C’est la Waack, Waackers Night, and the All Asia Waacking festival, which were founded in the early 2000s.

Waacking has also freed himself from the shackles of disco music, having inspired the choreography of K-pop acts like Chungha, Kara, Gugudan Oguogu, and Twice. “Waacking and blocking emerged from gay culture at a time when people needed to hide their sexuality and character,” he says Yoon ji, a waacker from Seoul. “They felt free dancing to disco music. Now it is 2021, but we still want to express ourselves ”.

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