Developed as a dance of self-empowerment and expression in the 1970s, waacking is experiencing a resurgence in interest, in part due to dancer and educator Princess Lockerooo.

Dance has played a vital role in the LGBTQ+ community over the last several decades, occasionally emerging to define a movement. Waacking, which originated in Los Angeles’ queer club scene in the 1970s and ’80s in Los Angeles, features expressive gestures and exaggerated body movements. It would come to be known as a radical form of expression, developed for and by queer people of color. 

Although lesser known to a mainstream audience than voguing (which Madonna popularized in the 1990s), waacking is currently experiencing a revitalization due to a newfound interest in the technique and the FX show Pose, which showcases the queer ballroom scene in the 1980s. One dancer who is helping to bring waacking to the masses and the next generation of queer dancers is Princess Lockerooo.

Lockerooo has been entrenched in the culture of waacking for the last 15 years as a trained dancer and performer. Studying under dance royalty Bryan Footwork Green and Tryone Proctor, among others, Princess Lockerooo embraced the genre and culture, which informs the way she approached waacking, its history, and the larger movement behind it. She has worked tirelessly to promote waacking and expose more people to it. 

Today, she is sought-after on a global scale as a public speaker, competition judge, dance teacher, and as an advocate for waacking and the queer club culture. Princess Lockerooo has performed on stages across the world, and continues to be a force to be reckoned with. Lockaroo is a vocal advocate for the waacking community and remains dedicated to pushing the bounds of art and identity forward through her recent initiatives. 

Boundless recently sat down with Princess Lockerooo to discuss the origins of waacking, how she got involved, and her thoughts on this growing dance genre.

How did you first become interested in dance and how did you come to waacking, specifically? 

I have always had a passion for performing and the performing arts. I went to LaGuardia High School [in New York City] for voice and had dreams of being on Broadway. After my first year of college, I put on a lot of weight and became depressed. At my lowest point, something drove me to take a class at Broadway Dance Center. My initial intention was to use dance as a way to get in shape and prepare myself for Broadway auditions. I got more than my figure back—I ended up discovering the NYC underground dance scene. 

I fell in love with dance and with the culture and never looked back. When I started dancing I dove into everything. I was training in house, hip-hop, locking, popping, and waacking. Locking and waacking spoke to me the most because of how theatrical they are. I started as a locker; as I got older and more comfortable with my sensuality and femininity, I crossed over to waacking.  

 

What is waacking and how does it differ from other forms of dance?

Waacking is a freestyle club dance that was born to the gay disco clubs of 1970s California…inspired by movie stars like Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, and Marlena Dietrich. Waacking united the elegance of disco, the opulence of Hollywood, and the flamboyance of the gay community.  Waacking’s most unique physical characteristics are the fast whipping of the arms, elegant poses, and exaggerated emotional expressiveness.

One of the expectations of a skilled dancer in any genre is to have great musicality. When it comes to waacking, this is crucial. Not only must you have impeccable timing, but you must be a conduit of all the instruments, vocals and emotion of the music. You must use your technique, and performance skills to make the music visual. 

Although there are specific “moves” or “vocabulary” within waacking, individual interpretation is subservient to the dance! In my opinion, the elements that make waacking are posture, performance, and musicality. The rest is what you bring to the table.

 

How does the larger history of waacking and voguing inform the way you approach this dance?

Waacking and voguing have similar roots in the fact that they both came from QPoC communities however, they have entirely different origins, inspirations, and history.  Waacking is a dance form that symbolizes freedom! It is all about celebrating and accepting one’s self. In the 1970s, homosexuality was frowned upon, individuals could be harassed, tormented, and exiled for being publically flamboyant, so these clubs and this dance created a platform for gay men of color to be free and express how they felt without judgment or mistreatment. 

Twenty-plus years later, waacking has come back into the spotlight serving the same purpose for disempowered individuals. Waacking taught me to embrace every aspect of my individuality and gave me the tools I needed to flourish as an artist. Waacking gave my life purpose knowing I could share these tools with others.  

I have traveled to 27 countries around the world, inspiring individual self-empowerment through waacking. The dance style has become extremely popular in Asia and in communities where being gay is not accepted and, where and women are not encouraged to express themselves physically or verbally in an empowered way.  Seeing the transformation in these individuals is amazing.

As a human being and especially as a dancer, I rely on muscle memory all the time. The repetition of physically embodying confidence and strength will eventually allow that feeling to live inside your body. The dramatized confidence used to dance becomes your truth.

Photo courtesy of Princess Lockerooo.

How did you learn about the history of waacking?

My first waacking teacher was Brian Footwork Green; he kickstarted the resurgence and ignited my fascination with the style. He introduced me to Tyrone Proctor who is a Soul Train legend and one of the last living pioneers of waacking. Tyrone taught me and the world about the history of waacking. Tyrone shared the specific music that was being played in the clubs when the style was birthed; he shared information about the creators of waacking who have sadly passed away. He showed video clips and took us to see drag shows as drag queens were a big influence on the dance style.

I have also taken classes with Ana Lollipop Sanchez, Shabadoo, Viktor Manuel, Dallace Ziegler and gotten some information from Toni Basil, and Jody Watley. Learning about history has been confusing because many times the historical perspectives among the living pioneers and practitioners differ.  They are close in age, but they experienced waacking at different times in the ‘70s.  Everyone’s story, perspective and personal history is true. The best thing one can do when trying to understand the history is to speak to all of the living pioneers and practitioners from the ‘70s. 

The original name of the dance was punking; punk was a derogotory word used against gay people in the ‘70s.  The word “waack” was coined by Tyone Proctor in an effort to describe how to use one’s arm while doing the dance: “You just waack your arm.” Jeffery Daniels (of the band Shallamar) and of the Outrageous Waack Dancers, made the decision to change the spelling to waack with a double A.  

Viktor Manuel calls himself the last living punk and refers to the dance as punking. Viktor moved to LA in the mid-‘70s while Tyrone moved there around the same time.They do the same dance, they have stories about their interactions with the originators who passed on, but they have different perspectives and experiences. They met each other a few years ago.  

To some people the punking and waacking are separate dances; to others it’s the same exact dance with a different name. Japanese people have always been studying street dance culture since the soul train days. Waacking/punking spread to Japan and they turned “punking” into something totally different. 

They added groove and soul dance steps, mixed that with some arm movements and removed some of the postural elegance and movie star like poses. Because Waacking spread globally so fast, so many people around the world are confused about the spelling, the name and the way to do it. The best thing anyone can do is do their history.

 

What does your stage name means and how did you get it?

The first dance style that I fell in love with was locking, which was also born in the 1970s California. It was created by Don Campellock Campell and is done to funk music. My first dance teacher Spex aka Raymond Abbiw gave me the name Lockerooo; it was my second locking teacher, ShockALock, who added the Princess. 

All of us dancers have dance names. It’s a cool thing to have a dance name, but I believe our names serve a higher purpose. Princess Lockerooo Is my superhero, my alter-ego! She is everything that I am and believe in magnified multiplied and exaggerated. She is fearless and strong.

Photo courtesy of Princess Lockerooo.

What you think you think is next for waacking?

Waacking is becoming more and more mainstream. It is evolving, changing and affecting more and more people every day. My only hope is that if and when it does become as popular or well known as breakdance per se, that it is justly represented and that the history is honored. 

 

What are some ways you incorporate waacking in your day to day life?

I teach waacking in New York City at the Broadway Dance Center, Peridance, and EXPG. I perform theatrical waacking dance acts at all kinds of events throughout the country and globe—Lincoln Center, Summerstage, NYC Pride, etc. As a public speaker, I give talks about the power of dance and how to step into your superhero. My entire brand as an artist is based on my Waacking expertise. Waacking is my life. 

Do you have any tips for people who are interested in this form of dance and its history, but don’t know where to start ?

I have created an online training program, Waackingclass. Waackingclass is empowering, challenging, and will help to build stamina, endurance, and facility to become a powerful waacker! 

On YouTube, you can find interviews and dance clips of Tyrone Proctor, Dallace Zeigler, Victor, Ana Lollipop Sanchez, and Shabba Doo. Toni Basil made a great video…about the waacking originators Lamont Peterson, and Andrew Frank. YouTube has a compilation of waacking on Soul Train, and you can see some of the originators, Andrew, Tinker, Billy Goodson, Lonnie performing at Ceasar’s Palace with Diana Ross (“Love Hangover” from 1979). 

 

What are some projects you have coming up in the waacking community?

My biggest and most important project is Waack to the Future. This is my international Dance Battle event that raises money for HIV and AIDS (DRA, BCEFA). It is an annual event that attracts dancers from around the world to compete. The event falls on the last Saturday of July and is widely recognized as one of the most eminent dance events on the international stage. Waack to the Future challenges the status quo of dance events in that preserves the culture and history, but puts a twist on things by intentionally changing the music for the final rounds of battles.

In the past, we explored what waacking would be like done to Broadway show tunes and live African drumming. This September, I will be traveling to Italy to judge Eleganza Waacking Festival, Europe’s biggest waacking event. I also have plans to teach and judge in Kazakhstan.  

Here in New York, I am a proud cast member of Oscar at The Crown, a queer nightclub musical all about the life of Oscar Wilde. The show reaches beyond Broadway musical standards by far, and the choreography incorporates a ton of waacking and vogue vocabulary. It’s a riot and I am proud to be the waacking consultant. 


Anni Irish’s work covers art and culture with a focus on queerness and queer identity. Her work has appeared in various national publications including Salon, Teen Vogue, The Village Voice, VICE, Bomb Magazine, Hyperallergic, and others. Irish currently holds a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University, an MA in gender and cultural studies from Simmons College, an MA in performance studies from New York University, and an MA in progress from NYU in gender politics. She has presented at numerous academic conferences, has been an adjunct faculty member at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and has guest lectured at various colleges, universities and institutions across the US. Irish resides in Brooklyn, New York with her 11-year-old Mini Lop rabbit, Isabella.

Elisa Macellari is a Thai-Italian illustrator and graphic designer based in Milan. She specializes in children’s illustration and editorial illustration. Elisa likes colorful things, wild animals, jungle, mysterious creatures, strange objects and tom yum soup. Her illustrations have been exhibited in Italy and abroad.