The video began as most dance class videos on Youtube do these days: a teacher is marking choreography before a class of sweaty, ultra-focused dancers. It’s French choreographer Claude Cormier M’y, dressed in all black like The Omen, demonstrating a floor move before performing the routine the way it’s supposed to look, much to the delight of the cheering students. As every superhero has a squad, Claude is joined by two male dancers, Rashaad and Kriss, also rocking black hoodies and fitted hats. The song: Kyle Edwards’ “We Are Young,” a jumping Jersey Club remix of the Fun and Janelle Monae duet of the same name.
After the trio glides, whines, punches, jumps, and humps their way through a high-energy routine that married hip-hop and dancehall, they retreat as the chorus enters, stripping away the hoodies and fitteds to reveal stockings, tights, booty meat-revealing bodysuits and snatched bodies. Assembled like Ballroom Voltron, what followed can best be described as a masterful three-man hand performance demonstration and mid-class mini-ball wherein they twirled, dipped, posed, strutted, and attacked the choreography with grace, precision, and authority.
In short, they vogued down.
The trio reassembled for a final victory pose, and everyone, both in the class, and all across Internetland, (including the sixty-two hundred dozen times well-intentioned homies tagged me on the video on Facebook) went fucking nuts.
“I didn’t expect this at all. It was crazy. Wow.”Claude recalls. “I didn’t know what the fuck happened. My mom called me like, ‘Are you crazy? You have your ass out! What are you doing?’”
But while the Internet gagged and gawked at the trio’s seamless transition from aggressive and gritty hip-hop to voguing and hair-whipping slayage and life-giving, Claude insists that the performance was business as usual: “I was just doing what I always do. It was just a regular class for me.”
The viral video, as polarizing as it has been, reflects but a small piece of Claude’s mastery, as dance was part of his world as far back as he can remember. Born to a young mother who would become his favorite dancer and best friend, his first break came when filling in for her when she was injured.
“When I was 12, she broke her leg. At the time, she was a limbo dancer. I have been a dancer since I was a baby. And I went everywhere with her and learned whatever she was doing. So she taught me the formations and I filled in for her on this performance, and have been going since then.”
The next six years were spent touring as a limbo dancer. “Life was great. I was having a good time, but I was kind of wanting to do more.” That hunger led him, at 20, to audition for a fancy dance school that had a limited number of slots for free classes. L’Académie Internationale de la Danse was just what he needed to finesse and expand his abilities: ballet, jazz, contemporary. Everything.
“I made it. They called me and offered me the place in the program, but I wasn’t serious. I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, whatever.’ But my mom said, ‘What! You have to take this opportunity, and realize all of what you have in front of you, and what you can do with your body.”
The school was, he says, “a dream come true.” He credits his mother’s pep talk as being what convinced him to take his training seriously and “become a dancer.” She was his first teacher. “She can do anything.” He grew up dancing in her school, learning salsa, samba, Caribbean, and African dance styles.
Like many dancers who fell in love with the craft here in the Age of Dance breaks, he grew up watching Janet and Michael, but it was Usher whose power, and presence entranced him the most. “When I first saw Usher’s 8701 Tour, it gave me life. There were lots of dancers. The choreography is sexy, it’s clean and big. It was everything.”But even that adoration has its limits.
“With dance and with everything, my mom is my biggest inspiration, for real. I didn’t watch a lot of artists, but my mom can do anything. She can do any style. I’m a huge fan of my mom. She’s the best dancer in the world. She’s the only person in the world whose dancing makes me cry.”
That love and support from his mother helped him embrace all aspects of his sexuality, interests, and performance style at an early age. As he shifted from hard to soft in the circulating clip, his comfort with his femininity was not lost on his earliest instructors.
“I’ve always been comfortable with playing with that feminine part. Because when I was young, I was feminine. Not too much, but yes, definitely feminine. When I was eight or nine,” he continued, “my dance teachers would tell my mother, ‘Yes, he’s doing good. He’s dancing well. He’s dancing like you.’ She was my only teacher, so of course!” She taught him to dance strong and powerfully, while still maintaining his grace, and embrace his masculinity when dancing as well.
The seamless melding of the hard and intricate and powerful and the sinuous and graceful reflects, he feels, his Caribbean heritage. It shows in his grooves, accents, hip work and his love of percussion and strength.“Yes, I am French, of course. But I am Caribbean, too. You can feel it when I’m dancing. There is a lot of whining when I dance. I move my hips and you feel that rhythm, that Blackness in my steps. I move my hips a lot when I dance because it feels good, and because of that African feeling I have in me. It’s that drum I have in me.”
But the open-armed embrace of the traditional (masculine) sexual presentation and a more fluid, feminine presentation wasn’t an easy one. “Everyone could see it, but I didn’t know it. They were like, ‘You are gay, no?’ But I would say no. My mother, as a dancer, was very comfortable, but I kept it all a secret for a while.”
In addition to intending to explore his family’s heritage and cultivate his own relationship with the culture in Martinique, he, among other things, wanted relief from stress around his sexuality and “to feel like real Caribbean man, so I spent two years there,” while friends and loved ones questioned his decision to head there instead of New York or London. “I stayed a few years there with my first guy, living my life. It was much easier there. I realized I was gay. And gayer all the time.” He intended to keep his new love life a secret, up until an unsuspected question from his mom at the end of a casual dinner while back home near Paris:
“Oh, and do you have a girlfriend?”
Inside, he screamed, “Damn. No. No No. Everything was going so well! Why now, Mom!?”
Not wanting to lie, he did what anyone in such a jam would do. He replied: “Yeah, I have a girlfriend.”
“For real? You didn’t tell me!” What’s her name?”
“Don’t worry, Mom. Don’t ask. She doesn’t have a name. She’s great. She’s beautiful. She’s wow.” he continued, “but she doesn’t have a name. It’s okay.”
“She doesn’t have a name?”
Mom proceeds to guess names. She guesses names, both men’s names and women’s names.
He broke. “Nooooo, it’s deep.” Tears. She reassures him,“You’re my son. You’re my life. You’re my everything. I love you.”
That night made his joy possible.
“I had to tell her I was gay and say it out loud for me to be able to be okay with it. It was hard but I am stronger now.”
He remains unbothered by the little criticism he has received from the video. He credits his success to his versatility, encouraged by his mother. “I think it created a buzz because for lots of people, it’s a new style. They’re not comfortable. Boys, when they dance, are either masculine or feminine. But me? I can do whatever you need. However you need it – hard or soft. I can do both. I have the capacity to be very aggressive and masculine or soft and, you know, gitchi gitchi ya ya. I like trying new things. Nobody is going to judge me. All of my family and close friends know that I’m crazy and have some crazy ideas, but they support me in everything I do.”
Commenters, “especially the straight guys,” he clarifies, left feedback under the performance video, saying among other foolishness, that it was too much, too gay. They said they couldn’t watch it all the way through.“They are liars. They watched it and they liked it, but they are scared. Because I’m dancing and when I’m giving feminine I’m giving it better than their girlfriend, and when I’m more aggressive and hard, I’m more masculine and manly than them. They are scared.”
He hopes the video educates and motivates anyone who’s creative but facing doubt. “It’s just a message. Be yourself. Live your life and don’t waste your time on people who are going to judge you or not help you grow and do your thing. When you come to my class, you’re never doing the same thing. It’s never the same style. It’s never the same style of song or movement. I like new things, and that shows in my work.”
In addition to his Caribbean flair, that work, specifically the viral video, reflects his embrace of ballroom culture, which is growing in popularity among Parisian dancers and in Black and brown circles. As it does stateside, dropping a vogue beat in the club still elicits impromptu runway battles and a flurry of dips and shape-shifting. The subculture’s growing popularity also prompted his friend to create, in ballroom tradition, the House of LaDuRee, encouraging Claude’s fascination with the new, challenging style of dance, something powerful to add to his repertoire as a performer.
His creative boldness has paid off. His next stage productions range from Brazil-themed performances with samba to contemporary pieces and monthly events. As for his legacy and future, the sky is the limit: “I want people to know who I am through my work. I want people to see and know what I can really do. You want a sexy show, or a cabaret show, or an Afro-themed show, I can give you that. I can do all of these things. Like my mom, I can do anything.”