What is WAACKING?
Waacking is a form of dance that originated in the gay clubs of the 1970s in California from the African American and Latinx population. The dance has also been known as “Punking”, with some of the originators claiming that the name was a way of taking ownership of a negative term (as the term “punk” was a derogatory term for gay men in the 70s) and giving it a positive connotation.
Waacking is an extremely expressive, free and musical form of dance that is characterised by arm movements and posing with a strong emphasis on musicality and improvised performance. Back in the day, gay men would take inspiration from icons such as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe and move their arms and pose in time with the music, channelling their inner diva -- something which they probably wouldn’t be able to do in their everyday life.
Disco music was one of the vehicles which drove the movement for these dancers. It was the pop music of that generation and one that was heavily favoured and dominated by the LGBT community. The soulful vocals, luscious synths and heavy bassline paired with lyrics predominantly about joy and love gave them a sense of freedom and escapism - not only from their realities as a QPOC (queer person of colour) but from the socioeconomic climate in the 1970s.
Waacking reached its peak during the 70s and then slowly dwindled from the clubs as disco fell from the mainstream and the AIDS epidemic hit the world - taking a lot of originators along with it. The remaining originators who did survive remained dormant until the dance had a resurgence in the early 2000s - with originators such as Tyrone “the Bone” Proctor, who was on Soul Train, and Viktor Manuel, who danced for Grace Jones - coming out of retirement to train the next generation of pioneers from around the world in the scene.
As dance styles evolve over time, so does the trend in music and the context in which it is presented. Waacking battles, similar to other dance styles such as “locking” and “house”, are a transplant of “hip hop” battles. They were never an original part of the culture but have been recontextualized for the sake of competition and entertainment and emphasise performance rather than directly battling. Waacking has revived all over the world with thousands of dancers performing this genre across North and Latin America, Europe and Asia.
Australia is having its largest waacking party and battle in Melbourne on the February 7. Hosted and judged by Taiwanese legend Chrissy Chou and RuPaul Drag Race Thailand’s Pangina Heals, the winner at the Melbourne Museum will be a finalist in one of the world’s largest battles, C’est La Waack (pictured below), in Taipei, Taiwan, including all travel costs covered!
Jonathan Homsey is the curator of the Nocturnal x Midsumma Lunar New Year Disco, on at the Melbourne Museum. Info and bookings: https://www.midsumma.org.au/