Born and raised in Miyazaki, Japan, Ikue Ueno had an extremely conservative upbringing. After immigrating to Canada for dance in 2005, she quickly made her first gay friend. One day, during a phone call, she told her mother that she was out with her homosexual pal; her mom “freaked out”.
“ ‘Stay away from them,’ that’s what she exactly said,” Ueno recalls over tea at a downtown café.
Despite being straight, Ueno didn’t take her mother’s advice—quite the opposite, in fact. Working as a go-go dancer at Celebrities, she found herself involved in the LGBT community and the local drag scene more and more. By the time she met Jojo Zolina, Vancouver’s fountainhead of the waacking and voguing dance genres, she was already keen.
Waacking originated in the LGBT clubs of ’70s Los Angeles, focusing on arm movements to beats. Voguing flourished on the streets of ’80s Harlem, recognizable by flashy hand movements and poses inspired by runway fashion shows.
“I liked the style as soon as I saw it,” Ueno says of Zolina’s dancing. “Whenever I hear vogue music, I just feel so excited.”
Having joined Zolina’s dance group, House of La Douche, in 2009, three years after its inception, she suddenly found herself at the reins in 2011, when Zolina left for a job in Toronto.
“I was very sad, but I strongly believed that we had so much to still do for the community,” Ueno says. She credits her long-time friend Jonathan Kol, a choroegrapher and fellow La Douche dancer, for tremendous support during the turnover.
While the group was formed to promote and campaign for LGBT culture, House of La Douche has grown in cultural diversity in recent years. Sitting beside fellow dancer Michelle Underwood, Ueno rattles off the group’s different backgrounds easily.
“I’m Japanese, she [Underwood] is half Filipino and half white, Jonathan is half Filipino and half Slovakian, and Tristan [Ghostkeeper] is native, and Kevin [Fraser] is black,” Ueno says. The in-house diversity is a large part of helping La Douche make a greater impact on society, the pair muse.
“Our shows are very humorous most of the time,” Underwood says. “I think that’s a great way to communicate to a broad spectrum of people.”
Although they have received criticism for blending waacking and voguing, Ueno remains defiant, saying: “We have our own culture.”
The team continues to book shows, performing at Vancouver Fashion Week, for example, and is maintaining its collaboration with local drag favourite Carlotta Gurl.
“I strongly believe we can offer a big contribution to society,” Ueno says of House of La Douche’s future. “I’m just trying to see what we can do for our community.”
House of La Douche will be part of the TD Canada and Home Sense/Winners Pride parade floats and will perform with Carlotta Gurl at the Pride Festival at Sunset Beach on Sunday (July 31).