I remember exactly when it all started. I spent the afternoon strolling along Amsterdam’s beautiful canals watching the 2016 edition of the EuroPride parade, an international LGBTQ+ festival, float by.
And there it was: a huge adidas-branded boat, carrying a large group of colorful, loud and proud employees unapologetically being themselves. I was flabbergasted by the boldness of the statement, the simplicity of the gesture and the clarity of the message:
Other companies followed, but for some reason I had already made up my mind. I still had two years at university but that day I decided I was going to pursue a career here. It wasn’t the décor, or the music or the colorful outfits; what captivated me was the fundamental principle that I could grow professionally in an environment that allows and encourages people to bring their full self to work.
I carried the spark of that day through the rest of school and still do in my daily life in and outside the office. Now working at the adidas global HQ, I stimulate my confidence by exploring creative ways to bring about positive change, contributing to foster a company culture that is committed to bringing diverse voices to the table and empowering individuals through sport.
Discovering voguing at adidas
Choosing from the wide array of extracurricular activities and sports available at HQ took some exploring; it could have been anything from martial arts to improv theater, handstands or bachata, but after a few weeks of weighing up my options, I found myself practicing the entrenched technique of voguing. I was lucky to find myself amongst inspiring colleagues with an incredible passion for their craft and a shared sense of advocacy towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Voguing blossomed into a highly stylized and expressive dance movement thanks to Black and Brown queer folks in the Harlem of the 1980s, although its roots can be traced back to drag ballroom competitions as early as the 1920s. It was more than just a dance for those who practiced it; it was a form of escapism and defiance of social norms for those ostracized due to their race and sexual orientation. As Jack ‘Gucci’ Mizrahi states: “Voguing has always been a protest”.
Every Thursday after working hours, Emelie Solano Dominguez, a Swedish-Colombian dancer and adidas footwear developer, leads a ‘come as you are’ practice session where everyone is welcome to, not only learn the voguing elements, but also its history, the importance of community and the power of finding your own voice, speaking your own truth and dancing to your own beats.
She first discovered this artform at the Broadway Dance Center in New York, where she moved to follow her dream of becoming a professional dancer. “The first time I took a vogue class I fell in love with the rhythm; it’s a combination of house music and dramatic beats my body couldn’t stop moving to.”
After her time in New York she traveled to Paris, Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Tokyo, attending workshops and experiencing the diversity of the ballroom scene. In one of our conversations, Emelie recalls a lesson from one of her absolute favorite teachers, Archie Burnett: “Dance is something you can entirely control with your own body; it comes 100% from you, so you need to be comfortable in your own skin.”
Community is queen
Back in Gothenburg, she founded her own dance group and started working as a teacher and choreographer, where she really discovered how critical the community aspect is for individuals in the voguing scene. “I got involved with it because of the people, my passion for music and the artistic beauty of the movements,” Emelie explains.
And heading straight to the campus’ gym and practicing after a long day of work is a therapeutic experience worth sharing. “In there it’s just the beats, the mirror and us. Total freedom.”
After joining a few of her sessions, I understood that for Emelie, sharing her passion for ballroom culture and voguing in the workplace goes beyond the technicality of the dance moves or just having fun with colleagues. She describes voguing practice as an ‘emotional rollercoaster journey’ where people are bound to knock down mental obstacles that arise from societal prejudice and fear.
“My goal is to help people be more confident on the dancefloor because I know it will permeate every other aspect of their lives.”
Suddenly it all made sense. Years ago, and almost without knowing, I had realized that my ability to be my most authentic self – in and outside the workplace – would be of utmost importance to succeed both in business and in life. It was a standard I would hold myself and everyone around me accountable to; and the Thursday sessions with Emelie were confirmation and an open invitation to keep doing just that.