DANCE: Archie Burnett on the Art and Soul of Vogue

PHOTO CREDIT: ANDREW ECCLES

PHOTO CREDIT: ANDREW ECCLES

Someone once told me at a nightclub filled with circles of people expressing themselves on the floor that “you can teach a person to dance, but you can’t teach feeling.” Years later, I still relate to this observation since I’ve been moved so profoundly by the right music on occasion and I’ve witnessed the moment an individual slips completely in tune with their body and emotion. Trying to explain that ‘feeling,’ however, is no easy task _ which is why it is essential to heed the words of someone like Archie Burnett.

Standing regal at 6’4,” the accomplished and acclaimed artist/teacher reflects on life as a dancer in the documentary, “Check Your Body at the Door,” produced by dance historian Sally R. Sommer. According to its Web site, the film began “because nobody was paying serious attention to underground club House dancers. When Archie Burnett took Sally Sommer (dance critic and historian) to the Loft in 1982 she saw amazing artists: ‘I wanted to shoot a documentary that put dancers at the heart of the film, using Archie as guide.’”

Burnett, now in his 50s, shares how it felt when “Check Your Body at the Door” was featured this year in New York as the closing film of the “Dance on Camera Festival” at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater in January. And, pay attention to what he has to say about the fine art of vogueing in an exclusive interview with Tania Fuentez Media. “Vogue is a dance born out of the “Gay” culture with roots that go back to the 60s, maybe further … Vogue is a lifestyle. People live like this. Without doing your research, they’re doing ‘VAGUE’ not VOGUE!!!!!!!! End of story.”

TFM: How would you describe the art of dance and your style? What significance has it played in shaping who you are professionally and personally?

Archie: I would say my style was born out of my influences of freedom. That has definitely shaped who I am professionally and personally in ways of thought and approach to life. There has always been a need for all of us to be free. Through music the dance is born, for me. It is not the dance but it’s the MUSIC and its messages that allowed me to have that possibility of expression.

PHOTO CREDIT: ANDREW ECCLES

PHOTO CREDIT: ANDREW ECCLES

TFM: Underground dance culture spans the globe and touches so many from all walks of life. Yet, it gets little respect or serious recognition besides what’s hinted at on reality TV shows more interested in ratings than reality. What can be done to change this misrepresentation?

Archie: That begins with us. When we get the opportunity to display a truth we must be convicted in doing so regardless of the powers that be. Yet we are our own worst enemy. There will always be someone who will bask in the euphoria of mediocrity and just for that opportunity compromise the bigger picture.

The more we are vocal with the inaccuracy and stereotypes that are being portrayed and sold to the masses by entities who maintain the power of the media. Their only concern is to attract the numbers since to them, all they know, is that , it is the voice that the youth speaks, thereby a huge demographic to tap into. Remember they are coming to us because they see GREEN so we should use them because they’re way too ignorant to even know what they are looking at. All they react to is being entertained. It’s that simple for them.

TFM: You celebrated a milestone this year with the release of “Check Your Body at the Door,” the long-awaited, critically praised documentary produced by historian and writer Sally R. Sommer. Describe how you felt on the night of its Lincoln Center screening. What do you hope this film accomplishes in the long run?

Archie: It was a great feeling. This truly was a labor of love. My wish for the film is to educate the masses and remind them that it’s not “ROCKET SCIENCE.” Our human basic needs are still what drives us. Even in all this. Don’t get it twisted _ K. I. S. S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)

TFM: Public acceptance of Hip Hop and B-Boying has come a long way, but House dance remains in the shadows despite an international following. Why is this and what makes it so different?

Archie: Once again, the media. House dance, for example, is more a personal and spiritual Dance with its deep connection to you and the music and was not intended for aggressive and competitive purposes, whereas B-Boying and Hip Hop have their competitive and often aggressive means of expression. To be clear HIP HOP now somehow has become a term that means all urban dance. Where as really it was one type of style popularized in the late 80s, early 90s. I don’t have a specific date. As with all social movements they evolve from other situations. Change through circumstance.

TFM: Every time I see you on the dance floor, I’m mesmerized. As a master of waacking, vogue, hustle and more, I ask that you please, please school those who still may think Madonna invented vogueing or any other such urban myths about this distinctive dance style.

Archie: OK, as most artists of Madonna’s ilk, they are not concerned with a culture. All they want to do is use what they feel no one has yet. All in the name of being groundbreaking. In her case, this is a double-edged sword. Her popularity, shenanigans manipulations of the media made her a star. If she uses a dance she has no connection to that the masses have not seen, of course she will be credited to be the first one to expose it to the world. She was not. Malcolm McLaren was the first with “Deep In Vogue” done about a year BEFORE Madonna. Madonna was a pop sensation so she got the attention. Plain and simple. She didn’t invent SHIT! She never said that! All she did was use it. At least she used real people in the scene. I give her credit for that.

Vogue is a dance born out of the “Gay” culture with roots that go back to the 60s, maybe further. Jail life creativity inspired aspects of the Ballroom Scene thereafter popularized in Harlem USA. Vogue is a lifestyle. People live like this. So I say to those who want to know more, do your research. Without doing your research, they’re doing ‘VAGUE’ not VOGUE!!!!!!!! End of story.

Recommended:

‘Check Your Body at the Door’: http://www.checkyourbodyatthedoor.com/

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