How Taipei’s Drag And Ballroom Scenes Are Fusing Two Cultures Into One And Making It Work
Taipei’s rapidly blooming queer culture is a sight to be seen. With last year’s same-sex marriage legalization, the island of Taiwan is becoming one of the friendliest queer destinations in the world. The same year’s Taipei’s 19th Annual Pride was the biggest one yet, attracting an estimated 200,000 attendees.
Many events and parties were organized all through the week, leading up to Sunday’s parade, one of the most-anticipated ones being “Pose,” which was headlined by Aja and Kim Chi of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and which was supposed to be hosted by one of Taipei’s most prominent Ballroom culture figures Big Ninja. The event was organized by C.U.M. (Create Ur Mmagic) party collective and was poised to be held at the historic queer space in Taipei called The Red House.
I was invited to the party by Big Ninja himself, who was one of the first Taiwanese people to ever walk in a voguing Ball in New York City and who is currently the father of the voguing House of Ninja in Taipei. I was introduced to him by my friend Melanie Ninja Extravaganza, who is an iconic figure in the NYC Ballroom scene and knows many voguers all over the World.
On the day of the event Big sent me the night’s performance schedule, and I could see that it was supposed to start off with several Ballroom categories.
The Ballroom rules are simple, even though they might seem confusing to someone who has never witnessed a voguing Ball before. Ballroom culture always has the same set of categories, in which people from the Ballroom community or anyone from the audience is welcome to compete / walk in. The categories might have a slight twist to them depending on whether the Ball has a theme, and not all of the existing categories in the history of Ballroom are always utilized. For example, the categories could be anything from “Sex Siren,” where you are supposed to show off your sex appeal, to “Realness With a Twist,” where you are expected to pass as heterosexual during the first stage, then return to the competition to vogue like a femme queen. To pass the first round you must receive “10s across the board” (highest rating from all the judges), after which you can move on to the next stage of the competition, where you battle it out with another contestant who has reached that stage along with you, usually for a trophy or a cash prize, or both. The battle goes on until there is only one person left standing.
Big came out on stage and started introducing the prominent figures in the Ballroom community that were present at the event (a necessary practice in order to pay respects). We shortly moved on to the first category, which was “Face” (usually a category about who has a classically beautiful face with minimal makeup). Instead of the expected call to get in the queue for anyone who wants to compete, several drag queens congregated in the center of the stage and started a choreographed lip-sync performance.
“This is unusual,”
The categories that followed next were “Runway,” “Female Figure,” and “Sex Siren.“ They all featured a similar format, where groups of drag queens (in the case of the “Sex Siren” category, dance collective Slutty Pomi performed) would come out onstage and start performing to a mix of songs with choreographed routines, sprinkled with voguing elements. It was far removed from what Ballroom is about; nonetheless it was still enjoyable, as everyone who performed put tremendous work into their numbers.
Several days later when I met Big for dinner, the first thing he asked me was my opinion about the “Pose” party.
“Ah, well it was different,”
He expressed that his Ballroom friends told him it wasn’t Ballroom at all, but he didn’t have any control over the way organizers wanted this to go.
On my last day in Taipei, I met up with Popcorn (one of the drag queens who performed during the “Face” segment) and her husband Henry. Henry told me that now in Taipei almost every party wants to combine drag with Ballroom. Both communities are pretty small and have just started being mainstream in Taipei’s nightlife, but both are becoming equally popular, inarguably due to the phenomena of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the hit show about Ballroom Pose.
“So most of the organizers want both now and we are finding ways to work together,”
Big Ninja judging “Bizarre” category at Spectrum Formosus festival
Indeed, during the techno queer festival “Spectrum Formosus“ that took place a week after the “Pose” party, Big Ninja, Popcorn, and her husband Henry joined forces to put together a mini-Ball.
“Since we were afraid that no one from the crowd would walk for the categories, we invited anyone we knew from the Ballroom and the drag scene so that they could walk and put on a show,”
The mini-Ball went on for over two hours and, surprisingly, many people from the crowd joined in certain categories. The Ball was entertaining as hell and I found myself walking for the “Sex Siren” category, being egged on by Big right before it started:
“You betta work it kitty girl.”
These days it’s pretty rare for the two cultures to mix in the same space, due to the different nature of the respective performance elements. But in Taipei, both communities focus not on their differences and occupying separate spaces, but rather about finding ways to work together in order to help each other’s cultures thrive.