Donna Summer in Seoul

Artist Leader: Chanel Matsunami Govreau

Home Community: Brooklyn, New York

Abroad Community: Seoul, South Korea

Wacoon and Donna Summer

Photo Credit : Chanel Matsunami Govreau

Nam Hun Kim, aka Wacoon, has a portrait of Donna Summer under a disco ball tattooed on the center of his back and it’s perfect.  Her eyes are closed, head is thrown back, and her lips are open like a sunrise behind the microphone. The tattoo is from the cover of her album “Live and More: Donna Summer.” I have the vinyl record at home in Brooklyn. It’s a classic. And if you’re a Waacker? The songs on the album are required listening.  

It’s a Wednesday evening at a cafe in Hongdae, an ultra young and vibrant area of Seoul known for its art, nightlife and fashion. I’m with Wacoon and six other Korean Waackers. It was Lip J, a dancer and leader in the urban dance community in Seoul, who brought us together that night to introduce me and my project.

After a week in Seoul of heavy August humidity and awkward issues with my homestay accommodations, it’s moments like this when I can grasp a feeling of relief and joy. For two years I’ve worked on finding a way to South Korea to study and research Waacking.  And here I am with some of the most talented dancers in Seoul. Time to get to work...

Chanel Waacking at Soul Tower during a dance cypher at Girl’s Night Party,

a femme dance performance night.

Photo credit : Skellio Photography

What is Waacking?

Ok, I’m sure many of you at this point are thinking, “What is Waacking?”

Waacking is a dance style created during the disco era of 1970’s Los Angeles in underground dance clubs.  Gay Black and Latino men are the pioneers of this art form, taking inspirations from the pose and emotion of old Hollywood movie stars. They adapt the movements to disco tracks, pulling out the beats and voice for a dynamic and dramatic performance. This dance was an expression of freedom at a time when it was not accepted to be openly gay in public. For a well researched and thorough explanation I refer to dancer and Waacking educator Kumari Suraj’s video here.

In the past 10 years, Waacking has experienced a resurgence globally and has risen to incredible popularity amongst young dancers in Asia, a majority of them female.

Seoul has a thriving Waacking scene, and in my opinion some of the most innovative dancers on the planet. Further, certain traditional Korean dance styles have incredible movement similarities to Waacking. For these reasons I chose Seoul as my place of artmaking and research.

JuYoung Kim for my project #CurrentMood: Check out the video here, Chanel Matsunami Govreau

#CurrentMood Project

Through early November 2016, I will collaborate with local dancers to create a series of motion portraits (4-5 second video clips and GIF animations) capturing the faces, personalities and attitudes of Waacking culture in Seoul. The project is named #CurrentMood after the social media hashtag used to mark images that express your feeling in the moment. A successful Waacking performance is not only what is seen, but what is felt by the dancer that makes the moment real.

After returning to the states in November, I will continue the project with my lens shifted to feature dancers who identify as Queer People of Color to honor the dance’s origins. I am interested in Waacking as a source of empowerment and self confidence for young Asian dancers, and youth of color as a whole. Yet I am also concerned that globalization of Waacking and its use outside the gay community will obscure its historical roots.

By bringing together motion portraits of Waackers in Seoul and NYC through exhibition, both online and in physical spaces, I will support a greater awareness of and respect for Queer People of Color in dance history. Through this process, I will also highlight South Korean innovation and fierceness in contemporary urban dance. And these two groups are not mutually exclusive! The LGBT dancers in Seoul are powerful; as a Queer woman of color, they have made me feel less alone in a new place where I wasn’t sure if it was safe to be out.