Bright sunlight from the roll-up door washes across the studio floor at Vitalidad Movement and Art Center. A couple dozen dancers quietly stretch and shyly try out new moves.
But when instructor Daniel Giron cranks up the music and demonstrates the catwalk, everything changes. Dancers throw their bodies across the floor with theatrical flair, as classmates shout and clap.
“I don’t know why,” Giron said, “but the catwalks across the floor in class really bring it out of people.”
This is Giron’s Fundamentals of Vogue Fem, a weekly Monday night class in Southeast Portland. More than just a dance class, Giron is creating space, especially for young queer people of color, to fully be themselves.
“It’s one hour out of every week that I get to take for myself, to put myself in a community of very like-minded people,” said dancer Nick Hyatt. “… I’m able to thrive and feel celebrated. And that’s really cathartic.”
Madonna’s 1990 video for “Vogue” was pop culture’s first exposure to the dance form, a showy club style that emulates models striking poses from the covers of Vogue magazine. But voguing started long before Madonna, created by African American and Latinx drag queens at New York drag balls in the 1960s. Styles evolved over the years, including the style Giron teaches, called Vogue Fem, a much more fluid, flowing, feminine dance.
Giron has always considered himself a natural mover. Out of high school he started dancing salsa. But one day, watching MTV, he encountered Vogue Fem.
“Seeing it for the first time was surreal,” Giron recalled. “What appealed to me was the unapologetic side of it. … I had never really seen a dance style that portrayed that so freely. I knew the moment I saw it that someday I’d be doing it.”
He started teaching in 2015 and at first it was slow, with just a few students showing up each week. At the same time he was competing in dance battles and often winning. In his victory speeches, he’d promote his class: “Hey, I’m teaching. If you want to come and battle, take my class.”
These days, 20 or more dancers crowd his classroom each week, “which is surreal to me,” Giron said, glowing. “Just knowing where it all started, and where it’s headed to now. There’s people that have pretty much graduated. … It’s really spreading.”
But Giron wants to do more than just create great dancers; he wants to help create a radically different city.
“A lot of times I hear people say, ‘Oh, I don’t like Portland because of it’s too white or it’s too this, or it’s too many hippies and this and that.’ And they choose to move out of Portland because of those reasons,” Giron said. “But my experience has been great in Portland because I have my family and a community. … My Portland experience has changed. I would like people in Portland to know that there is a community out there for us and that we are making a change in the scene.”