With Sara Jordenö’s documentary KIKI hitting the big screens in Stockholm this week, we thought it would be a good idea to learn a little more about the ballroom scene in Sweden’s capital. Who better to ask than one of Sweden’s main ambassadors of the voguing dance scene, Anna Ninja?
Anna has worked with artists such as Talib Kweli, Gloria Gaynor, Robyn and Agnes. In 2009 she became the first European member of the Legendary House of Ninja. She is part of the dance company P*fect which performs waacking and voguing shows, events and workshops.
Hi Anna. What’s your dance history and how did you end up being the first European member of the Legendary House of Ninja?
I started dancing at 14 years old, and took breakdancing classes. That and other influences lead me to DOCH (University College of Dance and Circus) in Stockholm where I got a place on the modern dance performance program. I moved to New York in 2008/9 and found out about Vogue through a class with Brian Green in Waacking. He told us about Vogue and Willi Ninja, who later became my idol. I Youtube’d him and the whole Ninja House like crazy, and completely fell for the style, attitude, and confidence. I loved the strength and freedom they possessed in their performance. I first encountered the House of Ninja live at Funkbox in New York. Me and a friends were freestyling after the show. We were super inspired and hungry for knowledge. Somehow, Benny Ninja, the Father of the House at the time, came into the circle, pointed at me and said, “Go again.” I was stressed out of my mind with admiration but started doing what we’d been practicing and gave it my all. And at some point he was screaming “I want you in my house”, waving his finger back and forth. So after that I got to practice with them, and became part of the family and team.
How did you go about organising ‘The World of Vogue Ball’ at Sodra Teatern in Stockholm earlier this year?
The World of Vogue Ball was a collaboration between myself, Bianca Ninja, Aviance Milan and Petter Wallenberg. It’s been such a privilege to have the legendary Aviance Milan in Stockholm. He made it possible for us to get together a judging panel who flew in from New York. Me and Bianca are used to working and organising events together, and felt that we really wanted to bring the real Ballroom deal to Sweden. This was the main focus for us, but we also wanted to bring the European scene together in an awards ceremony and panel discussion on how the new Ballroom scene is growing.
As a dance form, voguing has a rich historic context. By most accounts, it was created by black drag queens in Harlem during the 60s. Today, it’s a safe, creative outlet for LGBTQ communities. In more progressive, accepting places like Stockholm, does voguing still have something political to say?
I definitely think so. The scene is not huge here, but it serves a purpose for many nonetheless. We all fight some kind of fight regarding fitting into a society that isn’t built for everyone. Vogue is accepting of all bodies, all genders, all sexualities, and all ethnicities. This indeed is saying something. For me, vogue has been a place where I get to take back my body, and move however I want as a woman, for myself. You get to express your sexuality, femininity and body in whatever way you wish, and the confidence and love for yourself is praised by the community. All of that is questioning the Scandinavian concepts of ‘jantelag’ [humility] and “lagom” [moderation] in the best possible way.
How accessible is voguing to the greater public? Is it reserved for marginalised communities? How physically demanding is it?
I think vogue has been used a lot in the mainstream scene, but this is only the actual dance, and not the culture. I wouldn’t say it’s reserved for marginalised communities but I do believe that more privileged people have a huge responsibility in entering and taking part in this culture. It is a complex issue with cultural appropriation close at hand in some cases. It’s important to keep reflecting on your own situation, and to learn more through respecting the existing community and scene.
Voguing is very demanding physically, and challenges you to let go and go all out.
What does voguing mean to you?
Freedom to be who I am or want to be. Both on stage and off. It has made me more confident and loving in what I do and how I move. As a dancer, a woman, and a human being.
Words by Daisy Fernandez