Springboard Performance

Nov. 2, 2021

UCalgary-produced map documenting Calgary’s LBGTQ2S+ history finds new audience at Fluid Fest

Dance festival’s Vogue Mapping project takes inspiration from Calgary Atlas Project’s Queer Map

On Feb. 11, 1969, more than 300 staff and students at UCalgary flocked to MacEwan Hall Ballroom to attend a controversial lecture by influential San Francisco-based gay rights activist Harold Call. Call had been invited by the University of Calgary Civil Liberties Association for the talk, entitled Homosexuality: A Police Industry. Three undercover police officers sat three rows from the front.

Somehow, the detectives were discovered, and Call called them out, inviting them to comment. The officers declined and exited the ballroom soon after. The speech was reported on in both the Calgary Herald and The Albertan (which later became the Calgary Sun). It was a proud and pivotal moment in Calgary’s nascent gay rights movement.  

It’s a moment that’s being celebrated on location through dance at this year’s Fluid Fest, an annual Calgary dance festival put on by Springboard Performance. The MacEwan Ballroom dance is part of a larger Fluid Fest event called Vogue Mapping, curated by the organization VogueYYC, which celebrates Calgary’s vogue culture.

  • Photo above: Vogue dancer Kaew McKinnon is a performer in Fluid Fest's Vogue Mapping, a dance video project inspired by A Queer Map: A Guide to the LGBTQ+ History of Calgary, published by the Calgary Institute for the Humanites as part of their Calgary Atlas Project.

Popularized for the mainstream by Madonna’s hit 1990 song and video, Vogue, vogueing is a form of stylized dancing, modelling, and expression, often performed on ballroom runways. It originated as a form of community from New York’s African American and Latino gay and trans scenes in the early 1960s.

The Vogue Mapping initiative was inspired by A Queer Map: A Guide to the LGBTQ+ History of Calgary, an educational work of art published by UCalgary’s Calgary Institute for the Humanities (CIH) in 2019, as part of their Calgary Atlas Project. The map — designed by Mark Clintberg and conceptualized by LGBTQ2S+ Calgary historian Kevin Allen, author of Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary — brings light to a part of Calgary’s past not known to the broad public, with a focus on 30 locations crucial to the city’s LGBTQ2S+ history. Notably, seven of those locations are on the UCalgary campus.

Universities have always been places of controversial thoughts and opinions, and the University of Calgary has been important to our community’s history and human rights struggle.

- LGBTQ2S+ Calgary historian Kevin Allen

The Vogue Mapping initiative features a number of dancers — many of them persons of colour who identify as LGBTQ2S+ — doing short performances at 13 key locations on the Queer Map, including the MacEwan Hall Ballroom site (site number 24 on the map). Those performances were captured digitally and, from Oct. 31 through to Nov. 14, they will be available for viewing on the Springboard Performance / Fluid Fest website. With each dance there will also be links provided to A Queer Map, giving people the historical context behind the dance sites.   

“All of these historical LGBTQ+ locations, which have been, perhaps, easily unseen by some, are still very much a part of Calgary’s cultural fabric,” says Nicole Mion, head of Springboard Performance and founder of Fluid Fest. “And I believe that history lives in our bodies as well as in locations. The way we move is influenced by our culture, community, and upbringing — it intersects so many things. So, to have racialized, queer bodies performing in these historical spots brings the spaces a new vitality that’s fun, inspiring and powerful.”

As for Allen, he feels pleased that his Queer Map has been the impetus for the Vogue Mapping project. “I’m happy for the history to live with other people and for them to interpret it in their own way,” he says. “History can be pretty subjective, and I think it needs interpreters. It really comes alive when it’s translated into different artistic mediums, such as dance. It’s a truly exciting development.”

Dr. Jim Ellis, PhD, director of the CIH, agrees. “We’re thrilled to see the Queer Map taking on a life of its own, particularly in a new medium,” he says. “This collaboration with VogueYYC layers another vital dimension onto our map and to the telling of Calgary’s queer histories.”

For Shandie Ta of VogueYYC, the project is a way of paying homage to Calgary’s LGBTQ2S+ past, including both the human rights struggles and the victories of those that have come before, which paved the way for the scene Ta loves.

“I’m very aware that VogueYYC wouldn’t exist without the history that has come before us,” she says. “That history was revolutionary, and it reflects the great progress our community has made. That’s why it’s so important and such an honour for us to be publicly celebrating ourselves and our community at these locations.”