Midnight Work

Chanel Matsunami Govreau aka Queen Gidrea

Artist's Home Community: Brooklyn, New York, USA 

Artist’s Abroad Community: Seoul, South Korea

From the “Midnight Work” series. Video Stills by Chanel Matsunami Govreau. Collaboration with LipJ. Dancers Left to Right: Eujin Kang, Beautia and Zenta

Lip J is my (S)hero

It’s 1am on a busy street corner in Seoul. I’m trying to catch a taxi with a bulking luggage bag filled with hardcore studio lighting. We had to get out of our last taxi because our driver, who was furious, couldn’t find the location. To make matters worse, my phone just ran out of data so I can’t contact Lip J, my collaborator who I am meeting tonight for a video shoot. Lip J and 18 of her dance students are waiting for me.

I’m getting flustered. My partner, Josiah, is by my side. He’s visiting from New York and without his help I would have lost it by now! Until tonight, I’ve been shooting at dance battles and organizing outdoor photo shoots. This collaboration with Lip J’s midnight class will be my first studio shoot... and with this taxi situation I’m nearly an hour late.

After buying a wifi card from a 7-Eleven, I’m able to contact Lip J. She doesn’t hesitate and comes running to meet us from the studio. Luckily, the location for her midnight class is only a five minute walk away.  

Video Stills by Chanel Matsunami Govreau. Dancer LipJ

Lip J has become my personal Waacking super (s)hero in Seoul. I didn’t expect that one of the most influential and talented urban dancers in Korea would also be supremely humble, kind and supportive. She is well versed in the history of waacking both in South Korea, Asia at large and its origins in the United States. Her generosity and openness towards me has paved the course of my work here.

Hard Training

In Seoul, Waackers are serious about their development as dancers and many teachers hold 12am-5am “hard training” sessions. These wild hours of the night are the only times that many dancers are free of other obligations like school or work. Also, the trains in Seoul stop running at midnight and start up again around 5:30am. During these public transportation dead hours we are able to put in some good work. Full warmups, drills, routines, freestyling, musicality, partner practice, and tonight, a video shoot collaboration with Lip J and I directing. 

Left: Partner drills during hard training class Right: Class photo of hard training with guest instructor Ben Hsu (AkumaDiva)

LipJ introduces me and I get a huge round of applause, screams and hollers. Love feels so good! This positive energy extends into our video shoot. As each dancer has their moment under the hot bright lamps, their friends help them cut through any nervousness and pressure. They laugh, cry, cheer, and punctuate each other’s facial expression and poses with, “wow”, “Oooh damn!” “Yes this!” in a raucous blend of English and Korean. 

Behind the scenes during our “Midnight Work” shoot. Video stills courtesy of Josiah Savary

Lip J continues to translate for me while providing her own direction. She knows her students well and tells me when we need to change directions to support the styles and personalities for different dancers. I remain focused behind the camera with a tight broad smile on my face, and occasionally burst into laughter and finger snaps, amazed with how well this is going.

Self Love

What the dancers are doing right now is not easy. I believe that as a Waacker you have to break through society induced afflictions of self hatred and doubt to realize yourself as a super bad, gorgeous and expressive human being. Waacking is a dance form pioneered by Gay men of color in the 1970’s. The oppression they endured was channeled into the creation of this art form. And as Waackers today, we benefit from being able to practice and study their radical response to homophobia and racism.

As people of color, women, and members of the LGBT community, the current generation of Waackers continue to confront internalized oppressions and the discriminating eyes of viewers while they dance. During tonight’s collaboration, we create a space of loving and joyful support for the performer to explore sensuality, anger, fear, sluttiness, beauty and love. Whatever fears are holding us back, better get outta the damn way. 

From the “Midnight Work” series. Video Stills by Chanel Matsunami Govreau. Collaboration with LipJ. Dancers Left to Right: JINEETY - VICKY - Dohoon 

So with that, here’s my big lesson:

Waacking is a practice of self love. Radical self love.

I must credit Ben Hsu, aka AkumaDiva, a world famous Waacker from Taiwan, for teaching me this concept during his visit to Seoul last month. My conversations with Ben, and his workshops, provided a powerful catalyst and affirmation for my work that I will continue to unpack in the future.  

Video Stills by Chanel Matsunami Govreau. Dancer AkumaDiva

We arrive back at our airbnb around 4:30am. Josiah crashes immediately. Still jittering with up-all-night excitement, I can’t help but flip through the video clips on my camera. I’m proud of the work we’ve created together tonight. The loving support, fun, and positivity created by Lip J and her students reflect a movement towards a community-supported practice of self love.  And I’m honored to be a part of a global culture committed to making space for joy in their lives through dance and collaboration.


A video edition of “Midnight Work” by Chanel Matsunami Govreau and Lip J has been selected by Shannon Rose Wileyfor the NCWCA-sponsored, “F*ck U! In the Most Loving Way” exhibition at Arc Gallery in San Francisco from December 17, 2016 to January 21, 2017. The video will be shown during the Video Festival on January 14 from 7-10 PM at the 9th Street Independent Film Center, 145 9th St, San Francisco.