Categories
Activisim Ball Culture Events Timeline

Ball to Action: Ballroom-Styled Direct Action Event for #OccupyCityHall

Ball to Action:

Ballroom-Styled Direct Action Event

for #OccupyCityHall

EVENTS | ACTIVISM | BALL CULTURE

07-28-20

The “Ball to Action: Mandating Visibility for Queer & Black Trans Lives” event was a part of the 24-hour protest led by the Abolition Park organization on Tuesday, July 28, at Pier I. The “ballroom-styled” direct-action event invited the House/Ballroom community and Kiki Scene to speak out against the police and state violence that took place at #OccupyCityHall on July 22. One of the Ball’s organizers, Jonathan Lykes Garcon, was also one of the people who launched the #OccupyCityHall movement that successfully achieved the demand of defunding the police by $1 billion.

During the Ball’s opening speech, Jonathan shared that on the morning of July 22 at 3:45 a.m., police raided #OccupyCityHall, kicking out the protesters and getting rid of ≈$20K of merchandise by throwing it into the trash. Amongst the things destroyed by the cops at #OccupyCityHall were tables that were serving free food 24 hours a day, a people’s library, and a bodega. 

“Ball to Action” was cut short by the police presence. A few attendees received phone calls warning them about the police blocking access to Pier I. Rumors of the NYPD’s plans to arrest everyone in attendance spread like wildfire and people left the event shortly after. One of the attendees asked a cop if they were really going to arrest everyone in attendance, to which the officer replied that after the pier’s closure at 1 a.m. people might get citations.

Two contestants from HBO’s Legendary TV show, Shy Ebony from the House of Ebony and Zay Lanvin from the season’s runner-up House of Lanvin, attended the Ball among many other participants.

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Alexey Kim

Founder

Categories
Ball Culture EDITORIAL Events Timeline

How Taipei’s Drag And Ballroom Scenes Are Fusing Two Cultures Into One

EDITORIALS


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.

Viral pole dancer Quan Bui was flown in from Thailand to perform at the event

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,”

I thought.

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,”

I said.

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,”

Henry said.

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,”

Henry said.

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.

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Alexey Kim

Founder

Categories
Ball Culture Events The Mixer Timeline

Icon Freddie LaBeija Presents: Ultravation Destruction Ball in Harlem, NYC

THE MIXER | EVENTS


Icon Freddie LaBeija Presents: Ultravation Destruction Ball, 2019

We’ve sent a voguing ball virgin Mike Sullivan to cover his very first Ball with the house of LaBeija, in the historic neighborhood of Harlem.

My First Harlem Ball

I’ve been adventuring around NYC for around 3 years now. It’s wild to look back at my first year, and to think of all the changes the city and the queer scene has gone through. Three years is a very short amount of time, and yet I’ve already noticed how quickly things can ebb and flow here. I’ve heard seasoned New Yorkers describe how it used to be, how the city has lost its unique shine. The individuality, the spirit, the essence of what makes this city incomparable. I must admit, hearing that breaks my heart. New York is just a watered-down version of what it used to be? I can’t, I won’t believe it.

I started rummaging around NYC in 2016, right when the election was taking place. I was bemused at how dreamlike the city was, and it quickly became a haven from the jarring state of our country. I immediately sought out the queer community, and like following a trail of candy I went from party to party, taking pictures and making friends along the way. How could people think that the city has lost its spark? To me, it seemed thriving.

However, with only 3 years under my belt, I can see what people mean. Venues close, parties end, and people decide to stay in. We feel the loss. On the flip side, we see new shows in different places. Old friends come through and new participants come forward. There is a constant shift in focus, and I can only imagine what changes this city will have gone through when I hit my 10-year mark, and beyond.

With all of that being said, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was gearing up for my first Harlem Ball experience. We’ve all seen Paris is Burning. Billy Porter was recently awarded an Emmy for his performance in the notable TV series Pose. These two impactful pieces of work give us a window into the lives of queer people of color in NYC in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Paris is Burning is a historic time capsule, capturing people at their most vulnerable. The documentary is rather short, only a little over an hour, but in that time we are exposed to an expansive and triumphant world. We get a feel of the community’s dynamic; the strong sense of family, the entrancing creativity, and the undeniable strength the community took to survive. Now, around 20 years later, I can only assume  the ballroom scene has been through massive changes. However, to my surprise, I stepped into a world that felt untouched.

The documentary and TV series do talk of change – they describe that shift in focus that we still see in NY today. Of course, there is no denying that the ballroom scene has gone through inevitable changes since the early ‘90s, but it is clear that icon Freddie LeBeija, the curator of this weekend’s ball, had a clear vision to uphold the essence of ballroom. I stepped into a well-lit school gymnasium, with tables lined up and scattered with snacks and decorated with colorful balloons. A stage at the back of the gymnasium had more tables set up for the judging panel. I got there early enough that the ball hadn’t started yet. Music was playing. Friends and family were mingling and eating the hot food that was provided…it felt like I had walked into a Thanksgiving dinner.

I must admit I felt a little self-conscious, being a cis white boy at a function predominantly attended by QPOC. The last thing I wanted to do was intrude…I was there to take pictures, and I did have a fear in the back of my head that I might be perceived as someone who was there to capitalize on a beautiful culture that I wasn’t a part of. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been photographing my friends and peers in NY for around three years now, which includes trans, non binary, queer folks of color. However this experience was already so different than the club, or a drag bar, where drinking and mingling with strangers is encouraged. Here it was well-lit, exposed, and the friendships were clearly already established. I was asked to attend the event thanks to Lexy who couldn’t come, so I ended up flying solo. I texted Lexy when I got inside and mentioned I wasn’t sure what to expect. They simply responded with “now watch and learn.”

A familiar scene started to take place…the crowd gathered and formed a runway in between the tables. The ball began with several prominent members of the community walking the floor, accompanied by cheers and applause. I quickly scooted my way to the end of the makeshift runway, kneeling to stay out of view but close to the action. The first category was virgin to the runway, someone who’s never walked a ball before. I was shaking in my boots, very tempted to walk…but I chickened out and remained a fly on the wall for the evening. The ball continued, and the energy in the room began to rise like water in a sinking ship. I quickly fell into autopilot and started to take as many pictures as possible. I don’t feel that I can describe the exceptional creative energy with any sort of justice, so I will let the captured moments speak for themselves. Frankly though, the photos I took don’t even hold a candle to the experience of actually being there. 

No matter where we go, especially in New York, we are painfully conscious of the present, the state of the world. However the people attending the ball danced adjacent to that pressure, protected and timeless. It rings true to the roots of ballroom, a community that gathered to remain above the criticisms and adversity of the white straight normative. Although balls are competitions, the event felt collective, celebratory, and inspired. My favorite environments to photograph are ones that are victorious. Not victorious as in a win over a loss, but as champions of self-expression and achievement. This event honored the pioneers, the legacies cemented in the ballroom family tree. They are an integral part of the foundation of our community.  We must attend these events, pay the cover fees, tip our queens, uplift their stories, and keep the tradition alive. I’ve heard New York City has lost its flame, but this weekend I photographed proof that the torch is ablaze, patiently waiting to be handed to those who follow.

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