Arts & Theatre

Rebuilding the roots of waacking in Los Angeles

A co-founder of Waacking Wednesday opens up about his journey into the dance style and how the session supports the resurging waacking community in LA.

In a swift churn of the arm, up and

over the head…

and out!

Fred Mayor waacked his hand from inside his chest to the farthest point he could reach away from his body. He went from a quick turn to a slow, indulgent rise of his arm above him then rested it over his head, freezing on a single pose. This is waacking, and Mayor is the co-founder of a dance session called Waacking Wednesday dedicated to the style.

Waacking, also known as punking, is a dance style that originated in Los Angeles in gay clubs during the disco era of the 1970s. Like many terms utilized by the queer community, punking was a way of re-appropriating a derogatory term for the community.

Mayor learned of the style on the east coast in Virginia, his home state. However, he had little training and relied on YouTube and pop-up sessions in the area to satisfy his curiosity in the dance style growing up.

“I literally had no idea what I was doing in high school,” he said. “Dance in Virginia back then wasn’t as big as it is now, and it’s still a growing community out there.”

Mayor moved to LA in 2014 and began training with Ray Basa in house dance styles. He eventually took waacking classes with Kumari Suraj, a prominent waacker from New York, when she worked LA. Mayor joined Culture Shock LA, a local hip-hop non profit dance organization, and started developing his skills in multiple dance styles while surrounding himself with a dance community.

“At the time, I didn’t have a platform or anything to really have my back and support me,” he said.

He eventually found support in fellow waackers, including Lorena Valenzuela, or Lorena V, who eventually became his roommate. Valenzuela is one of the leading dancers guiding the next generation of waackers. The struggle came in getting a community together after two years of little to no waacking events or sessions.

“There was a very weird transition from the previous generation to the current generation,” she said. “There was a gap in there of maybe two years of nothing really happening or a lot of changes. And I feel like even in the events or the big events it was really not a lot of us.”

She arrived in L.A. around the same time Kumari left, tasking her with the responsibility to rebuild the waacking community. She started with The Waackers, a dance crew led by Kumari.

“The Waackers didn’t exist so Kumari wanted to do like a new brand of The Waackers,” Valenzuela said. “She asked me to direct it and she was like ‘help me look for people,’ and one of the first people I called was Fred because I knew he liked waacking. He was doing waacking when he was back home. He started coming to my classes, eventually he became my roommate, and I really liked his style.”

Although The Waackers didn’t last, Valenzuela continued to build a community of dancers together by bringing them to events and eventually starting a waacking session at The Movement Lifestyle, a dance studio in North Hollywood. The dance session took place every second Tuesday of the month, and waackers new and old came to join in on the dance session.

However, Mayor pointed out that the location being so far from waackers in L.A. makes it difficult for some people to make it to the dance session. After seeing sessions similar to Valenzuela’s also pop up, Mayor felt empowered to get his idea of Waacking Wednesday up on its feet with the help of his friend IJay Espinoza.

“I know this guy,” Mayor said about reaching out to Espinoza. “I know he’s going to be able to help me out and he’s going to be a good person to lean on, and this will be a good way for me to help him foster a community since he just moved here as well. That’s how it started.”

Waacking Wednesday is a safe space for people interested in waacking to join a dance session every second Wednesday of the month, just like Valenzuela’s session, but centralized in Downtown L.A. so it can be closer to everyone. Mayor made sure to have it the same week as Valenzuela so that there could be promotion for both and they could work hand in hand at opening up a space for waacking around the same time.

Their initial home was at SIPA, or Search to Involve Pilipino Americans, and has since moved to its current location at Downtown Dance and Movement in Downtown LA. Now the dance session is reaching its two-year anniversary on November 13th.

Ally Vega, a close friend to Espinoza and Mayor, combines waacking with styles like traditional Filipino dances in her choreography. She goes to Waacking Wednesday when she can, and when she does, she enjoys seeing people explore waacking with different styles like she does in her own work.

“Even though it’s definitely a waacking space, the crowds are usually very different,” she said. “What Waacking Wednesday is really good at is merging different communities together so it’s really cool seeing different styles at a waacking Wednesday session.”

From voguing to house, dance styles interplay in each Waacking Wednesday session. It depicts the diversity of dancers who are there to explore with movement, Vega said. As the session grew, it attracted people throughout LA and beyond.

“We have a lot of people coming from all over the place,” Mayor said. “There’s a lot of people from the O.C. who come to our session. Sometimes people from San Diego drive all the way up just for our session because there’s not that many waacking sessions or communities here in LA, even though it was born here.”

Suraj posted a video online outlining the history of waacking from its LA roots to its current resurgence. Waacking began as punking in the LA gay club scene where it was used as a way for queer people to express themselves freely outside of the discrimination they faced outside of the club. It then got retitled to whacking by heterosexual people adopting the style, disassociating it from its queer roots. Locker Shabba Doo renamed it to “waackin” to keep it from being associated with sexual innuendos. Soul train dancer Jeffery Daniels then added the “g” at the end, which is what we know today.

Valenzuela said the history of waacking tends to go overlooked, especially in L.A. because of how commercialized the entertainment industry has made the style. Together with people like Mayor and Espinoza, they are working to bring the style back to its roots, teaching both the social importance of its history and the inclusivity it brings through self-expression.

“I think we are finally putting the real essence of the dance in it, like we are showing that this style is based off of oppression and pain,” she said. “As a community and as a group we’ve learned so much about where this style comes from and we have strength in our community based off those groups. We pay respect to the O.G.’s who actually suffered for us to be able to enjoy this culture.”

Viktor Manoel is the only living original punkers and, with the help of Valenzuela, taught Espinoza, Mayor and the resurging population of waackers in Los Angeles. The Waacking Wednesday co-founders took lessons they gained from Manoel and Valenzuela and passed it on to others in the community looking for a way to express themselves in each dance session.

“I really wanted to create a space with IJay that reflected the values that Viktor instilled in me, as well as Lorena because of how open and generous they were with the style and with their own hearts and homes,” Mayor said.

Vega, one of the original people to attend Waacking Wednesday sessions, noticed how the program has grown from something small to a centralized hub of dancers interested in waacking.

“I remember it just starting out as like friends that got together that had a speaker and a playlist and that was it,” she said. “It slowly grew from there. It really shows how much the waackers in LA just needed a space to be.”

Dance sessions like Waacking Wednesday are building up the next generation of waackers, and Valenzuela is happy to see how this next generation is shaping up. After competing and going to events where most dancers are under the international category, she noticed that as of recent, there is a stronger local community present at events and in dance sessions.

“We’re a very local and very young community which is hope for the future,” she said. “So even if us, we can’t run it anymore, we know there are so many more kids who are willing to be a part of supporting it [waacking].”

Each session has a new theme, from world cultures to Halloween night. Mayor said the varying themes gives people the opportunity to express their identity and dancing styles however they desire. Although waacking began as a queer dance style, he said he wants anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, to feel welcomed and comfortable to explore their expression at each Waacking Wednesday session.

“For those people who are scared to try something out of their comfort zone, just go for it,” he said. “For those men who think this style is feminine or they see it as something that’s dominated by women, remember that it was created by men. Men who just wanted to live their lives however they wanted and be whoever they wanted especially when, at the time, they weren’t allowed to be who they were. You can come to a safe space where you can be whoever you want to be.”