Whilst it’s origins were undeniably more underground, the “vogueing” or ballroom scene has steadily found its way more into the mainstream in recent years. The scene provides the backdrop for TV drama series, Pose, and in the 2019 series of Strictly Come Dancing, vogueing even found its way onto primetime BBC courtesy of Michelle Visage’s memorable performance to the well-known Madonna song. The popularity of the reality competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race, which the aforementioned Visage appears on as a judge, has also massively contributed to this scene finding its spotlight again, as well as more broadly bringing queer performers to a bigger audience.
With all that being said, there will still be many who aren’t aware that a UK ballroom scene exists, and that is something which documentary Deep in Vogue hopes to enlighten us on. Directed by Dennis Keighorn-Foster and Amy Watson, and filmed over the course of a year, the documentary introduces us to a number of Northern-based vogueing “houses” in the build-up to the Manchester ICONS Vogue Ball.
Whilst the subject matter may seem niche, there is an infectious energy to this scene that is impossible not to be captivated by. As well as the incredible performers, it also explores some more universal things such as racism, disenfranchisement of young people, the gap between rich and poor, and how the changing landscape is affecting art spaces and the expression that happens in them.
There is a wonderful sense of acceptance and a celebration of diversity amongst the houses, whilst also the acknowledgement that despite the progress, this is still an underground subculture and there is still a long way to go in terms of true acceptance. The ballroom is a place where stereotypes and preconceptions are left at the door and the true self is expressed on the dancefloor, yet outside of this safe space there are still huge barriers to overcome, and this is never shied away from.
Whilst there is a great deal to admire in this documentary, and it does a wonderful job of highlighting the stories of those particularly marginalised in the queer community, it lacks a clear focus and a narrative through-line that would just take it to that extra level. Had it taken a bit longer with the subject matter and spent more time building up the drama of the competition, it would’ve had an extra edge. However just as you’re really starting to gravitate towards certain characters and houses, it ends, and I only wish it could’ve given us more of the actual competitive element.
It’s a subject which feels like it needs more depth, a greater sense of its history, further exploration of its sub and sub-sub cultures within it, and unfortunately that isn’t what this documentary is able to serve. At a breezy 60 minutes, it is undeniably a fun way to spend an hour, but I couldn’t help wishing for more. Perhaps it is the fact that a more definitive documentary already exists on vogueing, and for those who haven’t seen it, I would urge you to seek out Paris is Burning (1990).
That being said, it is still enlightening to see the UK scene being given more time, and anything that can help to amplify the voices of the queer community is always going to be worth giving attention to.