Cesar Valentino discovered vogue in 1982 and became infatuated with the self-celebratory dance genre while frequenting balls and gay clubs throughout New York’s West Village and Lower East Side. Valentino joined the ranks of the craft’s most celebrated originators soon thereafter, developing namesake moves such as the Valentino Dip.
The style of dancing, in which participants revel in a series of poses as a fashion model might at the end of a runway, has been eagerly embraced in pop culture by everyone from casual dance enthusiasts to the queen of pop herself.
Since his first pose in 1983, Valentino has served as an ambassador for the art form, carrying it through the pages of magazines like Vanity Fair into the hallowed halls of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s academy, where he is an instructor, and across the internet, where the dance is immortalized in YouTube videos and GIFs by fans of all ages and walks of life.
HuffPost talked with Valentino about the origins of voguing, what it meant to the gay community at the time and how it feels to see an art form burgeon beyond its humble beginnings into an international phenomenon.
Can we start with you setting the stage? How did you even come across vogue in the 1980s?
My first time visiting the West Village was in 1982, and I’d seen people doing the movements and stuff, but I wasn’t really sure what it was, because I didn’t frequent there much. It wasn’t until 1983 that I really saw it a lot, because I was there frequently, and I saw people on the west side piers, which was where all the gay people hung out — it was a place to congregate, a safe haven. And I saw this dance. They were, like, fighting, but they were dancing, and I was like, “Wow, I’m getting it full force.” I was blown away. They were modeling, they were freeze-framing, but there was also some Egyptian cutting, some hieroglyphic undertones and martial arts, and I was blown away.
So naturally, I went home and practiced. I said, “Whatever this is — my friends tell me it’s vogue — I’ve got to learn the basic movements and what is the purpose behind them.”