Marcus White: The Heart of Arizona Vogue

By Sarah Alcantar

Founder and creative director of the Detroit-based performance company White Werx, Marcus White is committed to creating diverse, dance-driven work for both the stage and the screen. Here in Arizona, White is an ASU educator known for his community work and his involvement in the Come AZ You Are festival, a four-day vogue/ballroom event that celebrates LGBTQ+ culture and includes interdisciplinary workshops and performances and invites widespread community participation.

WOD: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

MW: Prior to coming to ASU I spent about a decade in Detroit where I had a very active community of artists that joined me as part of my production team. Detroit was a really great place to create as an artist and really shaped how I think about black dance. If you want to know kind of where I began, how I started, I will always say I started on the block. That’s really where I would say the genesis of my movement and my dance training started, it was there on the block. After school we’d stay out of trouble, we would congregate, and create dances on the fly. There was no kind of teacher or instructor guiding us through that. It was a community.

WOD: How has Ballroom culture and movement influenced you?

MW: I started doing balls when I was way too young to be going to balls. Growing up in the southeast US it was pretty conservative, particularly at that time. Ballroom became a refuge point for me to discover what I was trying to do, who I was, and a community in essence. It has about 150 years of history rooted back to the early days of drag pageantry. The culture was largely underground and not visible to the public and that was very important. It was essential at the time, when there was no active policy to secure the rights of LGBT folks in this country. Ballroom can provide a refuge, a home even when you don’t really know what home is. And the ballroom scene here in Arizona is totally unlike any other major city in the west and that’s so fascinating to me.

WOD: When did you first know you wanted to be a dancer?

MW: It was always in there. I think I made the decision that I wanted to use dance as a pathway when I went to UNC Chapel Hill. I was going actually for law because I thought the way that I could enact change in my community was through the legal process. That’s where I felt social impact and social action could happen. My community was devastated by things like the criminalization of black men and the war on drugs. These devastating social norms at the time really helped influence my thinking. But then I noticed that I was waking up at the crack of dawn to go to the studio to dance, to move, to escape. Also partly to find refuge. And I said there was something obviously wrong with this picture. Why am I waking up at 5 am to do something that doesn’t align with my path? So I made the shift and auditioned for the dance program and they welcomed me with open arms. The rest is history.

WOD: How does your work engage with the community?

MW: I think my work engages in so many ways with the community here in Phoenix, and specifically ASU. The one I think is the clearest example is what we’re calling the Sol Motion Projects, which highlight different aspects of social dance. The idea is we take social dances that come from different communities, specifically communities of color, and we try to make it accessible. We have the Urban Sol festival, the Latin Sol Festival, and then my area is the Come AZ You Are experience. The idea is inspired by ballroom culture. Ballroom culture was popularized by Madonna’s “Vogue” in the early 90’s. It’s obviously evolved as a culture and as a dance form since then. My key contribution is working with students to produce their very own ball,

WOD: How do you use dance to enact change?

MW: One major way is through workshops and public programs and events like the ballroom series we’re developing. It’s really about how the culture and the dance brings folks out to connect to social services. I think that’s the thing that’s really critical to understand about how Ballroom functions and how it really sparks social action.