The illustrious Benny Ninja sashayed into his 2pm Vogue class, licked his lips, surveyed the room, and dispersed his first nugget of wisdom. “Rule number one in Vogue: You have to find your inner Bitch”. He pushed an imaginary strand of long hair out of his face with a manicured pinky finger and batted his eyelashes. “Who here has never vogued before?”, he asked with raised eyebrows. My friends and I sheepishly raised our hands. “Ooh, honeys. Let me tell you all about it”. He stalked toward our side of the room in just the perfect cadence to make the black and white plaid half-kilt over his diminutive derriere sway from side to side. “You have to . . . (hands flared around his face) . . . unleash (bevel, swivel around) . . . the diva (look up, shade his eyes) . . . (pose and stare us down, lips pursed and neck cocked) WITHIN!”. I smiled in spite of my embarrassment. This was going to be fun.
Benny Ninja, for those of you that don’t know, is the resident posing expert on America’s Next Top Model. He has worked with hundreds of famous models all over the world, graces my television with Tyra Banks at least once per season, and is even more fun in person than he is on the show. And now he teaches an open class at Peridance on 13th street. No experience required. Just a commitment to unabashedly and confidently VOGUE. According to Benny, the art of voguing began in prison. Incarcerated divas had little more to do than copy the poses in fashion magazines, which eventually turned into a competition, resulting in battles to out-pose each other. A gay gang turf war, of sorts. (Think Paris is Burning). While I have trouble picturing inmates in their orange jumpsuits contorting themselves to “find their light”, I’ll take the expert’s word for it. And let me tell you, Benny Ninja was an expert.
We started the class by learning the eight arm positions of vogue. Then the four hand positions. Then the four leg positions. By the introduction of the technique of “shade” (girl, you cover your face cuz you can’t look at that other fool”), I was beginning to get a little confused. Apparently there was a bit of a complex technique to vogueing. I posed at the wrong time and uttered a quiet “oops”. Benny heard me. “Baby, there’s no oops in vogue. No. You do your thing. You tell your story. If you’re fabulous, it’s right. That’s it. Now, POSE”. We then graduated into the three types of vogueing: catalogue (show off the clothes), commercial (tell a story), and couture (indiscriminately twisted and weird). Then we learned to connect our poses with “flowatry”. Benny, in addition to frequently referring to himself in third person, had a penchant for creating words. “Flowatry” referred to the technique of making small movements to transition from one pose to another. POSE! I made a catalogue pose showing off my pretend watch and used my new technique to show it off. “Girl, you killin’ me right now! Oohee, was that stank. Did y’all see her? She was TELLIN that story”. I surmised from that I had done something right. Yay, vogue!
It all started to make sense. In this free form class, Benny had given us the tools to start our trips on the vogueing runway of life. I saw how anyone, dancer or not, could come away from this 75 minute class feeling and posing fabulously. Vogueing was as simple or as complex as you wanted to make it. In the last fifteen minutes of class, we worked on our runway walks. Why would Joe Schmo need to know how to walk a runway? As Benny said, “You are your own designer and the world is your runway. Walk into the room and make everybody say, (he bats his eyes and sits into one hip) ‘That bitch is fierce’”. (Hair flip is generally not optional after this statement.) We strutted one by one down the room. One woman in a one-shouldered tee shirt walked on her tip-toes while a stylish young guy in striped sweat pants and purple converse sneakers strode heel first with his hand in his pocket. Wait. What was right? What was the better walk? I looked around in panic. “That’s right!”, Benny said to Purple Converse. “WOOOORK!”, he yelled at the woman on her toes. I looked around and realized every person in the class had a completely different walk. And every walk was equally as fabulous. And (drumroll please) . . . the moral of the story? It’s all fabulous when you commit to your inner diva.
Benny Ninja, you are both a wonderful teacher and an encouraging inspiration. Thank you for helping me and mine discover our inner bitches. I hope to one day have as much style as your pinky finger possesses.
People . . . everyone should take this class. It’s a blast. POSE!