By Colin Gallant
CALGARY — On Saturday, January 24th, The Bad Girls Club YYC will host Out of the Closet: XXXPOSÉ Ball for voguing enthusiasts within the LGBTQ community and beyond. What is a vogue ball exactly? As founder, choreographer, dancer and performer Tony Tran puts it, “balls are almost like a fashion week runway meets a beauty pageant.”
He ought to know. Tran makes yearly visits to New York City – inarguably the world capital of ball culture – each summer to train and meet the people behind these events.
Bad Girls, “a collective of artists who banded together to offer innovative events that you don’t see in Calgary but exist within the LGBTQ communities of other cities” formed in 2012 and word began to spread about their globally inspired parties.
“But it’s become more than that, it’s a safe space for people to be whoever they want to be. They’re not restricted by social norms and what society has put upon us. You can come out nude if you want to, you are accepted for who you are,” says Tran.
The significance of ball culture for the gay community can’t be overstated. Its origins can be traced back as far the 1960s, but balls really came into their own in the 1980s and broke through to the mainstream with the release of the touching and insightful documentary, Paris is Burning (1990). That year also saw the smash hit “Vogue” by perhaps the most notorious gay icon of all time, Madonna. While that pop single’s success exposed a massive audience to a surface level interpretation of ball style, Paris is Burning took an insightful look at the issues of class, race, sexuality and gender within the community and America at large.
The movement’s roots are most firmly planted in racial minority groups out of Harlem, NY. Feeling ostracized by their families, society and even the primarily white-geared gay culture of the time, young gay men of color formed “houses.” A house is somewhere between a club, a team and a family. Traditionally headed by a housemother or father and comprised of many “childrens,” houses provided a feeling of belonging and gave the marginalized youth a sense of home.
At a ball, houses compete in various categories on and off the runway. They are then judged on things like fierceness, shade (sneakily but viciously insulting an opponent) and realness (the ability to “pass” for a character). While it’s commonly misunderstood that balls are solely about drag, many categories require “butch” or masculine character play.
Of course, we can’t forget about voguing itself, which is more complex than it may initially seem.
“There are five elements of voguing: arms control or hands performance, catwalk, duckwalk, spins, and dips. A catwalk is walking like a cat on top of a fence and a duckwalk is more about movement coming from your legs and core, that’s the main difference,” explains Tran.
XXXPOSÉ’s categories will include Icons on the Runway: where contestants dress as their favorite celebrity, Bizarre: where participants are challenged to make their own costume from things around the house, Sexsiren: the clothing optional, sex appeal portion and Performance: the dance component. While adhering to theme is important, you won’t want to forget the basics.
“You can’t have a ratchet walk,” jokes Tran.
A secret guest judge from New York will attend, not only to determine winners but also to offer two workshops on ball performance the following day. Though Tran remains tight-lipped, he offered a small hint as to who the surprise guest may be.
“It’s a good one… that’s all I have to say. She’s a mother of a big house and has been around a long time.”
Yes, this is a Bad Girls Club event, but as underground dance music circles and pop stars alike re-embrace ball culture for the present decade, admission is open to anyone. Don’t be intimidated to go out and either spectate or participate.
“We realized this is not just for gay people… members of the arts community, even older ladies come out to have fun and let their hair down.”
The Bad Girls Club YYC hosts Out of the Closet – XXXPOSÉ BALL on January 24th at Dickens Pub.AB, Alberta, Bad Girls Club YYC, Dickens Pub, LGBT, XXXPOSE BALL