“The way I describe waacking,” says performer, teacher and activist Princess Lockerooo, “is that it’s a physical personification of your absolute truth, in perfect synchronicity with the music. It’s a dance of self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-love.” These days, waacking is often categorized under the hip-hop umbrella, but it’s actually a predecessor to voguing. “It’s a gay dance from the 1970s,” Princess Lockerooo explains. “It never had a Madonna figure to put it on the pop culture map, so in the ’80s, it almost died out.”
Princess Lockerooo (real name: Samara Cohen) took a roundabout path to waacking. Her childhood training was in musical theater; she attended New York City’s Professional Performing Arts School, followed by Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. After a depressive episode forced her to take a break from college, she found locking and waacking—and discovered the underground club-dance scene. “I could not believe my eyes,” she says. “Here were Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson’s choreographers from the ’90s, throwing down in the club! It was art, it was community, and I was hooked.”
Her first waacking teacher was Brian “Footwork” Green. He introduced her to Tyrone Proctor, who’d popularized the style on Soul Train. Proctor became Princess Lockerooo’s mentor and gave her one of her core philosophies as an educator: “He said, ‘I’m not here to teach you how to look like me. I’m here to pull out what’s already in you, to make you a better version of yourself,’” she says.
Princess Lockerooo currently teaches at Broadway Dance Center and Peridance Center, in addition to leading workshops around the globe. In class, she spends plenty of time drilling waacking fundamentals, including wrist rolls and poses. Drilling boosts stamina and muscle memory. “Waacking is a freestyle dance, and in a freestyle, muscle memory is your best friend,” she says. “If it’s in your body, you can be present in the moment and respond emotionally to the music.”
In waacking, musicality is a must. “A lot of dancers aren’t trained to identify musical patterns, pick out different instruments or understand phrasing,” Lockerooo says. “In my class, we take time to learn the sound. What’s the bass line doing? How many notes are in each phrase?” After students have thoroughly analyzed the day’s music selection, she’ll finish with either a combination that leads into a short freestyle, or a full-on freestyle—a chance for dancers to unleash their unique personality using everything they’ve learned.
For her DanceTeacher+ Lesson Plan, Princess Lockerooo offers a posing drill. Whether you choreograph the four poses or have students create their own, she advises asking dancers to come up with words or sounds to match each pose. “Verbalizing the intention of the pose transforms what they’re doing,” she says. “They go from looking like students in a class to coming alive.”
Step by Step
Note: All images below are courtesy Liz Schneider-Cohen
Step 1: Hit your first pose. Be precise about the details: What are your fingers doing? Where is the focus? What is your facial expression? Once you’ve refined the pose, return to a neutral position. Then, practice snapping sharply into the pose, hitting it on the same beat each time. For example, if the music is in 4/4 time, you might hit the pose on count 3: Rest, rest, pose! Return to neutral. Rest, rest, pose! Return to neutral.
Step 2: Repeat with your second pose, refining the details before drilling from a neutral stance. Aim to hit the pose with power on the same beat each time.
Step 3: Practice moving from pose 1 to pose 2, using the rhythm you established in step 1. Now, the drill might look like this: Rest, rest, pose 1! Hold, hold, hold, pose 2! Hold. Repeat.
Step 4: Work on pose 3 by itself, pinpointing each specific detail. Practice snapping into it from neutral.
Step 5: Add pose 3 into the sequence: rest, rest, pose 1! Hold, hold, hold, pose 2! Hold, hold, hold, pose 3! Hold. Repeat.
Step 6: Drill the fourth pose by itself, homing in on the details and hitting it from a neutral stance.
Step 7: Perform the full sequence: rest, rest, pose 1! Hold, hold, hold, pose 2! Hold, hold, hold, pose 3! Hold, hold, hold, pose 4! Hold. Repeat. Keep a crisp, precise energy and avoid losing any of the nuances of each pose. As you become comfortable, pick up speed.
Next steps: After you’ve drilled the full sequence, it’s time to “waackecize” it: Instead of returning to neutral or holding the pose, add waacking movements in between poses. (Below is a video breakdown of waacking wrist rolls.) Continue to hit each pose sharply on the same beat in the music.
Finally, try a freestyle, working in the drilled poses throughout.
“Waacking’s poses were originally inspired by old movie stars like Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich,” Princess Lockerooo says. If you or your students need inspiration, flip through fashion magazines and study the shapes the models make with their bodies. “Each pose should be filled with emotion and drama,” Princess Lockerooo stresses. “It should make you feel confident and fabulous!”
Watch the full video tutorial below: