Posted Jun 20, 2010 in Music | 0 Comments



In 1992 my friend Andrew invited me to join him on an impromptu trip to NYC. Originally from NY, it was no big deal for me to go. However, he forgot to mention that the sole reason for this trip was to attend the Tiffany Ball. Having seen the documentary Paris is Burning and being a black gay man, I’ve heard all I needed to hear about the balls, but never witnessed one with my own eyes. Who would have thought a heterosexual Filipino would educate me about a facet of black gay culture.

After about 5 minutes of deliberation and an illegal 4-hour drive I was thrown into another world; a world of fashion, music, and arts, all in the name of competition and escape. As Andrew and I stood there with baited anticipation we witnessed a future legend in a spiderman uniform acrobatically vogue his way to an award. One of many!

My intrigue shot skyward and I made it my mission to bring the ballroom community to Montreal. We had the World Balls, which were fantastic showing of local talent; whether it is in design or performance. However, it missed that NY feel, the feeling that’s brought only through dance, street experience and attitude. The vogueing art form, the flawless transgender, the sexy runway styles are hard to mimic.

The ball scene dates back in some form as early as the late 60s but gained popularity during the late 70s early 80s. I call this time the golden era as so many interesting art forms began during this time. While hip hop was ‘breaking’ out of the Bronx the ball scene was ‘walking’ out of Harlem. So the fact is that both lifestyles came from relatively the same streets at the same time. There’s a very thin line between them.

I remember my friend Tony and I practicing our moves in front of the mirror only to back down when another person walked in the room. We quickly realized that it should be left to professionals. The joke back in the day was that if you couldn’t vogue properly you were “vagueing”… Vogueing vaguely. No matter how hard it was, the bars of Tokyo, the warehouses of London, and the “boites” of Paris were turned upside down by this new dance craze. Everyone was talking about it. I say “was’ because as my friend would say it “fell off the map.” I would respond, “No it just went back to where it started and since then its evolved.” As everyone knows, history repeats itself and the black/Latino communities are ready.

To this day, these balls are still being ‘brought’ (ball lingo) all over areas of NY, Philly, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago and various smaller urban areas. But there’s no need to go very far. NY has it all! You can find information on the ball scene on various site, and even YouTube has numerous ball scenarios.

I warn you though. This is not your Cinderella story. There’s no ballroom dancing. These balls are real, meaning real urban. Attitude aplenty and glorious fun. it’s a complete other world with its own style, music and language. The doors can open at 11pm but it will only start at 4am. It may be a long wait but it’s worth every penny.

Enter How Do I Look, a documentary created by Wolfgang Busch a German/American artist and social activist who’s researched this community for over 10 years. This film is an artistic empowerment of the LFBT community and HIV/AIDS awareness community project. It captures the essence of the “Ball” community trend over the past 35 years. Instead of focusing on the negative, like past projects, it embraces the positive. It shows how these creative individuals took their talents from the streets of Harlem and managed to awe such individuals as Queen Latifah, Madonna, India, and Thierry Mugler.

By using the House (family archetype) system they managed to instill hope in the hearts of their members and expose them to present day issues such as health and education. How Do I Look, focuses on members battling for recognition from their peers. By obtaining these trophies they can achieve ‘legendary’ status.

With names such as the House of Ebony, Ninja, St_Laurent, Chanel, Dior, and Extravaganza, they’ve attracted attendance by such celebrities as Melba Moore, Mo’nique, Boy George, Barbara Tucker, Kevin Aviance (House of Aviance) and Patricia Fields (House of Fields). Not bad for a fad that has come and supposedly gone. The film itself has received strong positive media response from the New York Times, NY Post, BBC TV, and me (not that it matters).

How Do I Look is a community project that respects and meets with members of the community. They’ve created partnerships with the LGBT non-profit AIDS organization, schools, media, politicians, etc… Having received no grants their sole financial resources is through fund raising and royalties which will be shared by 120 ballroom members. The film has won several awards and rewards, even before its release.

While Paris is Burning had no community input at all resulting in the ball community being shown in a negative light. It divided the community from society and established stereotypes. It’s received several grants and has been sued by several members of the ballroom community. It had no political support and yet won many awards.

With such passion from members of the community how can you go wrong? Kevin Omni, the assistant director of the project, has 29 years experience, 200 trophies and numerous awards. He’s truly a legend and a legend in the making. I say this because though he has acquired the lifetime achievement award (the highest level of status) in the ball community, its his ongoing contributions in the gay community as a whole that makes him a legend in the making. Between Wolfgang Busch and Kevin Omni this film truly represents the ball community.

Now I have to admit even I have made the mistake of confusing the two films. My interest was peaked because I thought it was a sequel. But happily it is so much more.

It’s unfortunate that such an interesting and positive educational gay movie has taken so long to be released. But then again it makes perfect sense; it comes from the heart and is for the community, not the individual. How many projects can say that?

For more information visit: Walk For Me Online

It maybe a 6-hour drive, but it’s definitely worth the trip. What’s 6 hours compared to a lifetime of memories?


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