A Vogue Legend, Still Widening Circles of Pleasure


When Archie Burnett hits a dance floor, he tends to take over.

That’s partly because he’s a big man, six feet tall and full of muscle. Especially in the 1980s and ’90s, when he was a mainstay of New York City’s underground clubs, his body was “shooting”, as he recently put it.

Such a body attracts attention, but the chance to fade into the background really disappears. when it starts to move. Then it’s a kaleidoscope of long lines and sharp angles. At any moment, ready for a camera to click; always on alert.

His dance is also knowledge in action. Vogue and wake upA resurgence in popular culture may be new to some, but not to Burnett. He is the grandfather of Ninja House, a collective of dancers who were instrumental in spreading fashion from ballrooms to videos and fashion shows in the ’80s and ’90s. With Tyrone ProctorAs a pioneer of Waacking, Burnett’s brother-in-law helped reinvigorate this flashy, cool improvisational style developed in Los Angeles gay clubs in the 1970s. House dance is also home territory.

Yet a Burnett dance floor takeover is never hostile. Choreographer David Neumann remembers going to clubs with him in the ’90s. “People would want to fight it,” Neumann said. “But Archie immediately disarmed the person – screaming, slapping the ground, praising them.”

“That’s his attitude,” Neumann continued. “If you’re really into dancing, you take the stage. Now, eventually, he’ll probably beat you, but that’s not his point. Its purpose is the joy of dancing.”

Sally Sommer, the critic and historian who followed Burnett to the clubs in the ’80s and put her at the center of her ’90s club dance documentary, “Check Your Body At The Door” He similarly described Burnett’s stance in an interview: “It’s about widening the circles of pleasure.”

At 62, Burnett continues to expand these circles in the classroom as well as in clubs. Since the 90s, as the demand for training in underground club styles has increased all over the world and especially in Europe, he has become one of the most respected and influential teachers. (“The most important emitter,” Sommer said.) Younger dancers affectionately describe him as a fairy godmother, a cool uncle, or the best dad ever, a friend who makes you want to dance even if your feet hurt.

From July 28 to August 1 his teaching takes a new form: “Life Encounters” A show at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires. In it, Burnett and an intergenerational cast of dancers tell the story of her life in dance. (Production video will be available on the Jacob’s Pillow website 12-26 August.)

They tell this story through dance, with skits of Burnett’s high school days, his initiation into underground clubs and vogueing, his first encounter with Europe, and experimental dance. These are all scenes of exploration, in which he typically portrays himself as a novice. There’s a lot of humor.

Burnett is in the center, dancing and narrating. His voice is as loud as the others and he is used to defending himself. Ask him almost any question these days, and his answer will probably include the phrase “Whatever I tell the kids…” or one of the phrases like “you can’t fake the truth” and “you can’t fake the truth”. The club is class.”

The club was his class. He had almost no formal education. At first, he made moves from “Soul Train”. Until 2014, he had a day job at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. (You can see him washing subway cars in “Control Your Body.”) Dancing was more of a passion for him than a job.

Speaking after a recent rehearsal, Burnett said that the most important experience of his life began in 1980 when he started dancing in the Loft. underground party celebrated with crowds of mixed dance enthusiasts and a spirit of acceptance. “The Loft was a come-in party, just the way you are,” he said. “Even if I didn’t know who I was, it helped me know who I was.”

Dancing was something she had to do on the sly when Burnett was growing up in Brooklyn. His mother, a Seventh-day Adventist from Dominica, disapproved. “I wasn’t on drugs, I wasn’t killing anyone, but was he a problem because I like to shake my ass?” said Burnett. “He told me I was going to hell, I had to go to God. But dance is like a religion to me. It’s where I feel closest to my spiritual plane.”

His mother wanted him to be a preacher, and in a way, he may have fulfilled that wish. Burnett preaches the gospel of Loft, a gospel of love. The message of “Life Encounters” is the message of all its classes: “Live your truth” and “you are good enough.”

Despite being in Burnett’s life, there is not much sadness in the series. “My friends were falling like flies when AIDS arrived on the scene,” he said. Willi Ninja, who founded the Ninja House and became famous after appearing in the 1990 documentary “Paris on Fire”. Died of AIDS-related heart failure in 2006. Burnett was his health surrogate. “I had to pull the plug after I had a heart attack,” he said. “These experiences shaped my idea of ​​friendship and family. I try to spread that love through dance.”

Burnett doesn’t teach movement. He tries to teach his students as he learns. “These kids were never brought up in club culture,” he said. “They see it from the outside. But these things come from the inside out. I try to pretend we are at a party and invite them to do what I do” – a projection that connects them to the music and their own reactions.

Rehearsals for the cast of “Life Encounters” have been an ongoing master class. “Archie is a bearer of history and always leaves gems,” said Abdiel Jacobsen, who used to be a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company (and uses the pronoun “they”). A few years ago, looking for ways to more fully express a fluid gender identity, Jacobsen discovered encouragement and welcome in Burnett’s fashion and frenzy classes. Now a Hustle devotee, they do that partner dance with Burnett on the show.

Sinia Alaia (also known as China Braxton, Nia Reid, and others) met Burnett about seven years ago while teaching in Sweden. A well-known diva on the Vogue ballroom scene – brashly training others on “Life Encounters” – she was then in her late 30s and was not performing and was afraid to put on a trainer show. “But Archie said to me, ‘You got this girl,’ and he breathed this life into me,” Reid said. “When you stop dancing, you feel aches and pains.”

Getting old hasn’t been easy for Burnett. “I am my own worst critic,” he said. “I would go crazy if I thought of all the talents I had when I was 20. But I stopped worrying about what I didn’t have and tried to remember what I was doing.”

What it has are relationships. He said that the cast of “Life Encounters” was like “family love”. Maya Llanos is the daughter of DJ Joey Llanos, a friend of Burnett’s from Paradise Garage days. Better known as Samara Cohen Princess Lockeroois Proctor’s most prominent disciple (who died last year). DeAndre Brown (ballroom delicious) was once part of Ninja House. Burnett met efrat aserie on the dance floor. “I’ve been dancing with that girl for 20 years,” he said.

And what he has is knowledge. “Archie is research, this is great font,” playwright Marcella Murray, who served as dramaturg for “Life Encounters” with Neumann, said while doing research for this show.

But it wasn’t just Burnett’s knowledge of dance that impressed Murray. “We chat about how we treat each other in the arts,” she said. “It was great to see how Archie travels the world and how people want to look for him.”

“Because we’re all trying to be like that,” he continued, “not only making great art, but being good people making art. That’s my favorite reason to be glad that people are seeing more of Archie.”


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