As I noted in the Boing Boing piece, Shaun J Wright’s answers to my questions about ballroom, and how he was introduced to that scene, deserved an article in their own right.
So, without further ado, here they are.
How did you discover the ballroom scene? What was your introduction to that world?
entry into the ballroom scene was quite lengthy. I was familiar with
some of the elements of ballroom culture because I would sneak into
black, gay clubs in Chicago when I was 15. There would be vogueing and
runway battles occuring in the club but I didn’t attribute those things
specifically to ballroom. Around the same time I viewed “Paris Is
Burning" and it helped me to make connections between what I was seeing
in the clubs and the balls, which were still a great mystery to me. When
I ventured to Atlanta to attend college I began to learn how to vogue
by watching voguers in the club. I would test out my new moves and a few
houses took notice. I decided to join the House of Escada as most of my
friends were already members and it felt like a natural fit.
What was your first impression the first time you went to a ball?
attended my first ball in the summer of 2001 in Chicago. It was a
really crowded ball with participants from around the country and I was
extremely impressed and also a bit confused. I still remember that night
in a hazy manner. Though I had been clubbing for about four years by
then, balls were something different altogether. The energy just swept
through the room and I was never quite sure if my eyes were seeing the
events as accurately as they were occurring. It would take attending a
few more balls before I was able to process their intensely complex
What left the greatest impression that
night was watching Legendary Mother Leonard “Lisa" Escada Mugler
(R.I.P.) destroy Butch Queen Face. I recall him walking to the judges
panel and sending every other competitor on their way without a single
vote. All I could hear from the commentator was, “1 Escada, 2 Escada, 3
Escada…". I decided at that moment that I wouldn’t even consider joining
another house. I wanted to be apart of a crew that had that type of
mother. It just worked out that most of my college buddies were already
members of or prospects for the House of Escada.
How was walking? Were you nervous? Which category did you walk in?
first time walking was in 2002 at the House of Milan Ball in Atlanta. I
walked Butch Queen Vogue Femme, my first and only category. It was a
major ball with a lot of the big names from NYC in attendance. I
remember spending hours practicing with my friends beforehand and
emulating the attitude of the vogue divas that I loved watching.
friend Randal helped me dress behind the upstairs balcony of the ball
venue which was a huge converted chapel. I wore an over the shoulder
sweatshirt, tulle skirt, blue Converse hi-tops, and my hair in a side
ponytail. Very Punky Brewster and tres chic in 2002. I was a virgin in
the category so I wasn’t very confident that I would win. I was pretty
excited to walk but not nervous. Until I approached the runway…
most times when you walk individually to qualify to compete or “get
your tens", we began with the process of elimination. Another unexpected
twist was the commentator, Jack Mizrahi, instructing us on which
element to perform and when to switch to another element. So, we were
told to give hand performance at the back of the runway, then catwalk
towards the judges’ panel before duckwalking. As we approached the panel
we were told to spin and dip and end with a ovah floor performance. As
you can imagine, I was petrified, especially after seeing more than a
few people chopped who were in line before me. Some of these people were
ballroom stars and statements, which heightened my anxiety. I didn’t
get chopped and though I didn’t win my battle I did receive some votes
and the congratulations of others who had been walking and making a name
for themselves in the category prior to me.
walked a handful more major balls and a dozen or more mini-balls after
that in both Atlanta and Chicago and even won a few trophies.
you form many bonds with the people at the balls? Do you feel the balls
work at building community? What about the fierce competitive aspect?
did encounter some incredibly interesting and inspiring individuals
within the scene. Most of my core connections occurred with members from
my house and some of those connections still last. I wasn’t extremely
social with people from other houses but I did enjoying vogueing in the
club and would spend hours “passing the beat" with those who walked
performance and even legends who would still vogue in the club for
pleasure. A few people in particular come to mind. Icon Father Andre
Mizrahi and Legendary Armani Milan, among others, were always so giving
of their time and creativity when vogueing with me and really helped to
shape my understanding of and appreciation for vogue.
Who are your favourite vogue DJs / dancers?
my point of view, there are only a handful of dj’s who are actually
entrenched in ballroom culture and help progress the culture forward. I
have no expertise on who the dj’s were before I entered the scene but DJ
Vjuan Allure created the greatest remixes of the “Ha Dance" by Masters
At Work, which is the quintessential tune for vogue femme. It’s not the
only vogue femme song but it’s the most enduring. Angel X is also
influential. MikeQ has pushed the scene beyond it’s previous boundaries
and has had a great impact on the infusion of ballroom into other
fringe/underground music forms. He’s an incredible DJ, too. I had the
pleasure of hearing him spin at Public Works in San Francisco this year
and I danced uncontrollably.
I can go on endlessly about my favorite performance divas but I’ll compile a list in no specific order.
Icon Sinia Ebony
Icon Kristina Richards
Icon Alyssa LaPerla
Legendary Meeka Prodigy (my all-time favorite)
Legendary Desja LaPerla
Legendary Roxy Prodigy
Legendary Leoimy Mizrahi
Tamiyah Allure Khan
Butch Queen Up In Drags:
Icon Andre Mizrahi
Legendary Armani Milan
Legendary Ricki Allure
Legendary Kevin Prodigy
Legendary Kevin “JZ" Prodigy
Legendary Pretty Prodigy
Legendary Marquise Revlon
has crossed over into the mainstream once before, do you think that can
happen again? Do you think people want it to become bigger?
in the States, the second cross over has already occurred, particularly
with The Vogue Evolution team doing so well on the television show
“America’s Best Dance Crew". It’s also made a major impact in mainstream
video choreography and is constantly referenced by mainstream artists,
both male and female. But as before, oftentimes, the source of the
dance, the ballroom scene, is left without credit for their
contributions to the larger cultural landscape.
believe that a lot of this oversight has to do with several factors.
When vogueing and ballroom culture began to enter the mainstream
consciousness and be accepted, it was first dispersed by conduits who
didn’t necessarily reflect those who were core participants within the
scene. I think this is very telling particularly since members of the
ballroom were already producing work that reflected the culture with
very little mainstream fanfare.
Also, it is an
improvisational, ever shifting culture and dance form and I think many
in the mainstream find it challenging to digest these changes. It’s
often easier for those outside of the culture to hold on to that which
has come to symbolize the essence of the culture, particularly films
like “Paris Is Burning". There is a sea of new ballroom footage
flooding the internet but whenever ballroom cultural cool is needed,
“Paris Is Burning" becomes the default go-to. This is not to dispute the
validity of that particular piece of work, I just believe that ballroom
is mistakenly reduced to something way more static and two-dimensional
than it is truly.
It’s also difficult to fit
ballroom into the very narrow commercial models that rule the
mainstream. Ballroom, unlike so many other cultural movements, doesn’t
ascribe to any particular marketable fashion or tangible product that
can be bought and sold. Unlike punk or nu-rave, you can’t venture to the
mall and buy garments that reflect ballroom sensibilities specifically.
The music doesn’t fit into the traditional pop radio formats. You can
watch balls from afar on YouTube but in order to truly participate you
must actually attend balls and gain an insider knowledge on the culture.
That makes it difficult to shift into the ballroom. However, with the
increase in democratic media, ventures like Ballroom Throwbacks stand a
great chance of permeating the mainstream while also keeping the
presentation within the control of people who actually participate in
These are not the only reasons that the
mainstream has a hard time pegging the ballroom. I’m not sure exactly
how people feel about an increase in the culture’s popularity. It seems
to be happening organically with very little interference from the
mainstream, most likely because of technology.
What would be your advice to a first time ball virgin?
Be prepared for anything to occur. Be prepared to be
surprised and astonished. Relax and enjoy the entertainment and jot down
as many mental notes as you can as you will find great inspiration from
Do you think balls and vogue culture has changed or even effected your life?
Absolutely! I can’t imagine my life without participating
in the scene. Learning to vogue greatly expanded my dance vocabulary
and my ability to improvise. It helped me become more comfortable with
my gender expression as well as the complex gender expression of others.
It exposed me to great art, creativity and broader ways of thinking.
I’m less afraid to be bold and expressive. I got to witness some of the
most energetic displays of dance and individual style that I’ve ever
witnessed. My short time in walking the ballroom was amazing and I’m
still an avid spectator.
As you can see, Shaun's answers are definitely worth an article in their own right. Here he is in action, taking vocal duties for the Stereogamous release "Face Love Anew". This video (and song) is gorgeous:
stereogamous feat Shaun J Wright "FACE LOVE ANEW" from stereogamous on Vimeo.