One of the biggest moments of the RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 3 premiere was Aja’s variety show performance. Pulling from the ballroom scene, the Brooklyn queen duckwalked, gave a bit of a hand performance, went up onto a box and came careening down, one leg extended. The audience reactions even inspired a meme. Guest judge Vanessa Hudgens called it a “shablam.” Many have referred to it as a “death drop.” Except it’s neither.
No, it’s not a “shablam.”
Nor is it a “death drop.”
It’s a “dip.” Full stop.
“Ballroom calls it a dip,” Jason Rodriguez, a dancer and choreographer who has worked on projects like Netflix’s The Get Down and the forthcoming film Saturday Church, tells Hornet. “It’s not a death drop, or a shablam, or a 5000, and that [name] has been lost.”
And Rodriguez, who has been known as Slim Ninja from the House of Ninja in the ballroom scene since 2014, would know.
There are five elements of Vogue Femme, the style of Voguing that was exhibited by Aja and is the most prominent Voguing form in the mainstream: hand performance, duckwalk, catwalk, floor performance and dips and spins (the last two collectively dubbed “dramatics” by some).
I learned this as a teen nerding out over Jay Pendavis tracks on YouTube. But it was reinforced anytime I’ve read anything from people of the community. And it makes sense, as that’s where the move originated.
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“If you go to a ball, nobody would ever call it a death drop if they are acknowledging a dip,” says Dashaun Wesley, a father in the ballroom House of Lanvin and a literal legend in the community. “Of course it’s shocking and exciting to the eye, and the first thing you hear — you just run with that. Since [the community] hasn’t really had a great presence in media, people have been getting it wrong, but it’s a dip.”
Over the past decade I’ve heard the move deemed a few things. Back in 2010 I remember when DJ Webstar had people calling it the 5000. Around the same time I remember dancers on the West Coast incorporating it into their choreography and calling it a shablam. And then, mostly from the drag community (the community that inadvertently birthed the ballroom scene), I’ve heard it called the death drop. And as that community has mainstreamed, seeing unprecedented visibility, so have the terms it uses.
“It’s sad because mainstream is what popular society is listening to, so it’s not society’s fault, but it’s people who have a moment in the mainstream and give you the wrong definition,” Rodriguez says. “I think that a big issue is that within RuPaul’s Drag Race there’s not enough people from ballroom involved.”
And that’s a valid issue. With a platform arguably comes responsibility. (Indeed, one of RuPaul’s catchphrases on All Stars is “With great power comes great responsibility.”)
As Ru educates Middle America (and the rest of the world) about the nuances of drag culture and queer culture, it seems a bit odd that he and other queens like Shangela would inadvertently contribute to the erasure of contributions made specifically by queer people of color. And while it may seem a bit insignificant to some, if a celebrity dubbed a plié a tendu and continued to influence the general public to call it that, unchecked, you can bet there would be quite the backlash to follow.
The dip is one of the most eye-catching aspects of Voguing, and as such, it would make sense that people would want to adopt it. In Vogue Femme, the dramatic dip where Voguers slam their bodies into position, sometimes adding 360 spins beforehand, is a GIF waiting to happen. But some Voguers are fans of a softer version.
“I explain it like the period to the end of the sentence,” Wesley says. “Some people just do it because they think it’s a cool thing to do, but [when you’re Voguing] it’s supposed to be natural. It’s supposed to feel like it belongs there rather than you forcing it. So that’s the difference between someone who knows how to Vogue and someone who doesn’t.”
But whether or not you use it as a period or an explanation point in your Vogue, the key is getting the name right.