Paper Magazine reports that the New York City ball scene is nothing new. Since the 1920s, African-American men have dressed up as women and “butch queens” and sashayed and shantayed down runways, competing in categories like Vogue Femme, Realness and Face and creating elaborate couture-inspired costumes on behalf of their “houses” like Labeija, Xtravaganza and Ninja.
The scene, which originated in Harlem and mostly features all varieties of gender-nonconforming men and women of color, was popularized in the early ’90s by documentary filmmaker Jennie Livingston in the seminal Paris Is Burning, and by Madonna who brought “voguing” into the popular lexicon using legendary House of Xtravaganza members Jose Gutierez and Luis Camacho in her music video for “Vogue.”
The scene has continued to flourish since then (though many of the early voguing pioneers, featured in Paris Is Burning, passed away from AIDS), and in 2004, the Kiki ball scene, a sort of junior varsity-level, lower-key alternative, was born, as a place where young kids who maybe didn’t have the polished skills to compete with the big boys could hone their chops. In addition to dozens of Mainstream houses, there are now nine major Kiki houses, with anywhere from 50 to 150 members each, with many of the Kiki kids also belonging to Mainstream houses, and using the Kiki scene as a way to gain leadership experience and, well, have a kiki.
Much ink has been spilled recently referring to a voguing “renaissance” (the House of Xtravaganza’s 30th anniversary ball was covered by the New York Times and a Kiki ball held in a parking lot where the legendary Rockland Palace once stood, received a write-up in The New Yorker) but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Vogue balls have been happening uninterrupted for decades. However, with a country more accepting of homosexuality; artists like Beyoncé, Azealia Banks and Lady Gaga using voguers in their music videos; the reality show America’s Best Dance Crew incorporating the moves into their repertoire; and a new wave of rappers associated with the scene like Le1f and Zebra Katz, voguing is bubbling up into the mainstream once again. “It’s not like we had a meeting and said let’s make this more widespread,” Twiggy Pucci Garçon, founder of the Kiki House of Pucci and a member of the Mainstream House of Comme des Garçons, explains.
“But because all kinds of sexuality are becoming more accepted, this is going hand in hand with it. There’s also a certain sect of the community who are fed up with creating things and not getting credit,” he says, referring to the frustration when artists like Madonna and Beyoncé get recognized for dance and fashion styles created by voguers. “People have taken from our community, stolen our moves and never given us a thank you or acknowledgement,” Chi Chi Mizrahi Unbothered, a founder of the Kiki House of Unbothered-Cartier and member of the Mainstream House of Mizrahi, says. “So people are taking their creativity by the horns and making sure the world acknowledges us.”
Go behind the scenes at the photo shoot:
Photo credit: 1) Mother Trace Mizrahi. 2) Tyra Allure. 3) Pony Zion Garçon. 4) Chi Chi Mizrahi Unbothered-Cartier. Photos by Timothy Greenfield- Sanders.
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