With a childhood coded by the corporeal culture I experienced, I held back. I avoided gestures and actions that felt natural to me. I constantly confronted my body, telling me what to do, and replied, “No, don’t tease yourself. It cannot feel like that.”
BOGOTÁ, Colombia ꟷ Vogue surged in Colombia during a time of resistance. What started as a celebration transformed the streets into a political stage. Together with the community, I joined the strikes – dancing and protesting.
I stand up to the predominantly Catholic, sexist, patriarchal control in Colombia, and I scare them. When adults my parents age see me dancing, expressions of rejection cover their faces. On the other hand, when children see my dance, they look astonished and happy. It fills me with joy.
I dance vogue in the streets. Through dance, I give voice to the voiceless. As a transgender woman, I express my femininity and my very being for all to see. When I dance in theaters or indoor venues, no one bothers me. When they harass me, it happens in the streets.
[Beginning in November 2019, hundreds of thousands of Colombians took the streets for two months. It became known as the #21N National Strike. Members of the LGBTQ+ community symbolized their protest by dancing vogue in the streets.]
My colleagues and I created a dance group called Docactavi which means, “Where so much life fits.” I serve as the cultural manager. We create space for experimentation and art. We also teach vogue and other forms of expression.
In one of my very first projects, I wanted to honor my father’s friend who is deaf and mute. He once told me about his experience during the 1985 siege of the Palace of Justice of the Republic of Colombia by militant guerrillas. Due to my father’s hearing disability, I became a sign language interpreter. I watched as my mother moved her hands and made gestures to communicate the word of God in church.
This taught me another kind of bodily expression through the hands and I wanted to interpret that through dance. The experience of my father’s friend during siege of the palace proved quite different than that of hearing people. He said he saw people running and did not understand why. Nobody knew sign language. He just followed them, noticing the desperation on their faces.
Through dance, I began to tell his story. I called the performance Inhabiting the Body by Cophosis (which means total deafness). Sign language conveys a message with similarities to dance. I realized I could communicate a story with my body, hands, gestures, and facial expressions. The moment inspired me to extend my work to the transgender community.
Every dance is unique depending on the audience and the staging. Along with my friends, I select costumes, accessories, and identify the kind of dance to perform. We pick a house or location to get ready in. I put braids in my friends’ hair and apply makeup. They help me do the same. Our efforts include a great deal of cooperation.
During the pre-production as we get ready for our performance, I dance and laugh. It feels like a party. At the sets of our performances – often out in the streets – I greet members of the gay community. These pleasant moments feel so good, seeing people I have not seen in a while.
We dance by category. When a peer from my category goes on stage, my body feels energized by them. I shout her name and offer my support. When my time comes to perform, my entire body feels empowered. I begin to transform, as do the people watching. This process intensifies when we dance in the streets, parks, and public places.
Vogue is both dance and energy. People suddenly start clapping and shouting to the rhythm. They don’t care if it’s hot or cold outside. They come anyway. After the event (called a ball) we all get together and go out, to a park or another place. Together with my friends, we dance, sing, laugh, and talk into the night.
As a diverse people, the transgender community in Colombian have been forced onto the streets and we have made it our home. With my friends and the people who come to see us, as a transgender woman, I find a place of inclusivity. I try to enjoy it and live to the fullest.
I had to rebuild myself in a patriarchal society where so many barriers exist; to create shields to protect myself. I come from a Christian, Protestant family. To me, homosexuality and sexuality can be noticed. From a young age, I could feel this difference inside myself, but had no concept of sex.
At 13 years old, I discovered sexuality, wondering why I felt something about the male body. Yet, because of religion, I experienced punishment in the form of a whip because of my family’s beliefs. At 16, I had a charged debate with my angry mother because she viewed my desire to transition as a sin. First, I simply came out as bisexual, but in time I rebuild myself completely. When I was young, I cried my eyes out every single night.
With a childhood coded by the corporeal culture I experienced, I held back. I avoided gestures and actions that felt natural to me. It seemed like I constantly confronted my body, telling me what to do, and replied, “No, don’t tease yourself. It cannot feel like that.”
By 19, I began exploring life as a transgender woman by offering self-love and self-acceptance. I had a strong of foundation of dance. From the age of 11 or 12, I attracted attention in my family through Hebrew dance activities they enrolled me in. I used my body as an instrument of experession. This would carry into my adulthood.
Today, I vogue. I vogue to express, to celebrate, and to protest. Vogue, for me, is a fantasy society has not allowed us to embrace. We embrace it anyway.
All photographs by Adriana Niño.
Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.
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