O’Shae Sibley Wasn’t Interested in Toning Himself Down

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It is still difficult to comprehend that a dispute over dancing, a form of self-expression that is vibrant and liberating, resulted in a tragic death. As a crowd gathered at a gas station in Brooklyn, chanting “vogueing is not a crime,” they were participating in a memorial ball protest called “Vogue as an Act of Resistance.” The event was filled with bodies of all shapes, sizes, ages, and styles, except for the one that mattered the most: O’Shae Sibley’s. Sibley, a 28-year-old dancer and choreographer, was fatally stabbed on July 29 after vogueing to Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” in the gas station’s parking lot. The police reported that several men had told him to stop and hurled homophobic slurs at him.

Qween Jean, a costume designer and activist, spoke through a megaphone at the protest, expressing the pain of seeing the location where Sibley lost his life. She highlighted the lack of concern for LGBTQ+ bodies, stating that “they do not care what happens to our bodies.”

Sibley’s tragic story is unfortunately not unfamiliar. After spending a day at the beach, Sibley and his friends stopped at the gas station to refuel their car. While pumping gas, they danced to Beyoncé, at which point a group of men approached and told them to stop, using anti-gay slurs. Sibley was stabbed and later died that night. A 17-year-old has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with the incident.

The bodies that Qween Jean referred to represent the ongoing discrimination faced by the LGBTQ+ community. How can they navigate the world freely, let alone dance without fear? Watching Sibley, full of life and celebrating his existence through vogueing to Beyoncé on a warm summer night, should have only brought joy, not tragedy.

But Sibley’s death serves as a stark reminder that his expression of dance can still be considered threatening. He was a gay man whose chosen ballroom category was “vogue fem.” Unspoken rules exist when it comes to male dancing, defining what is acceptable, what goes unnoticed, and what is seen as dangerous in certain public spaces.

Sibley seemed uninterested in toning himself down or living inauthentically. His inherent grace, power, and beauty were reflected in the way he carried himself and his body. However, the meaning behind his aura before his untimely death has since changed.

Robert Garland, the artistic director of the Dance Theater of Harlem, who also hails from Philadelphia like Sibley, recently presented a ballet at Lincoln Center. One particular moment in the performance, where a male soloist pays homage to John Carlos, a runner who famously raised his fist on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games, reminds him of Sibley. Garland remarked, “O’Shae put his body on the line,” highlighting how Sibley’s expression ultimately became an act of resistance, even though it began as a genuine reflection of who he was.

Sibley’s body is now seen as an act of resistance due to the way he died and the dance he was engaged in at the time. This transformation is closely tied to vogue, a language that emerged from the Harlem ballroom scene in the 1960s. It extends beyond mere dance; it represents a community, a way of being, and a means of embracing true selfhood. Vogue boldly and beautifully explores issues of race and gender while providing a sense of chosen family, home, and safety.

Although Sibley also studied other dance forms and performed at prestigious events, he will likely be remembered most for his contributions to vogue. At the ball protest, the power and art of dance were evident, serving as mechanisms to release pleasure and pain. The event progressed from tearful remembrance to louder demands for justice and ultimately transformed into a vogue celebration. The crowd, which spilled into the streets, created a runway, allowing Jason Rodriguez, a vogue artist also seen on the show “Pose,” to glide down. Rodriguez, who had recently worked with Sibley on a video shoot arranged by Adidas, later shared that being part of the protest felt empowering. It symbolized reclaiming what was lost and asserting the idea that using one’s body however desired is correct.

Members of New York’s experimental dance scene and Honey Balenciaga, currently on tour with Beyoncé, joined the protest to show their support. At the gas station, situated under the shadows of luxury condominiums, moving in an expressive manner was not only accepted but expected. It was as if Sibley’s dancing spirit was no longer alone. The dance that was stolen from him grew into something grander, a collective celebration of self-expression that was more outspoken than ever before. For Sibley, achieving fame in this way was not ideal. However, it was fitting that his vogue memorial echoed the sentiments of Josephine Baker, who once said, “I would like to die, breathless, spent, at the end of a dance.”

In conclusion, the tragic killing of O’Shae Sibley after vogueing at a gas station highlights the discriminatory treatment faced by LGBTQ+ individuals. Sibley’s body, once a source of joy and self-expression, has now become an act of resistance. Through vogue, a dance form rooted in the Harlem ballroom scene, Sibley defied societal norms and embraced his true self. The memorial ball protest served as a cathartic gathering, empowering individuals to reclaim their bodies and assert their right to move freely. Sibley’s legacy will forever be intertwined with the powerful act of vogueing and the ongoing fight against discrimination and violence towards the LGBTQ+ community.

About Emily Maya

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