By Renati Waaka
Last week Wellington held its first vogue ball at the City Gallery, hosted by Auckland’s House of Aitu. It’s a competition that mixes runway walking, dance and performance art, first started by queer people of colour in New York in the 1980s. For many in Wellington, it felt like the first time a space like this had been made for them in the city. Renati Waaka went along to document the ball, and spoke to three people about what it meant to them.
When you develop a space that focuses on community, family, authenticity, inclusion, diversity, competition and love, you begin to witness yourself become a part of something that is much bigger than just yourself.
A vogue ball space where self-discovery is promised, and lifelong familial bonds are created. The reality for many outcast QPOC (Queer People of Colour), including me, is that they have only had themselves and a handful of chosen family to lean on throughout life.
Bringing a ball to Wellington came with the determination that we could spark something that would ignite the creation of an independent scene down here.
We wanted this so that Wellington too may be a witness to the liberation such a space can offer; to witness the community and family that can be born from this space. The Auckland vogue scene started with an idea, and persisting through trial and error over time. If Wellington wants it badly enough they only need to follow suit.
I hope more lost young queer youth, especially QPOC find a sense of home in our ball scene. I hope they find good role models, and are inspired to live life for themselves.
There is no better revenge than success. Do you want revenge in life? Revenge on the world? Revenge on society? Work hard, push yourself to new heights, and watch as they can wonder how you did it. Periodt.
The ballroom culture is truly a place for every and anyone who feels out of place. It’s helped me become the person and the woman I am today. It creates a sense of belonging and love that I’ve never been able to experience growing up.
It’s helped me live my truth and truly celebrate what it means to be a fem queen or a trans woman of colour. The ballroom scene has helped create a safe atmosphere in cis-gendered spaces for people who are like me so that everyone and anyone can feel that way wherever they go.
I’ve become a young role model to the Pasifika community just from me never really limiting myself to a stereotype portrayed in the media of what a trans woman should be.
I am like every other human on this earth and that is what the ballroom culture and environment is like. It truly is a celebration.
I think it was very important for us to bring ballroom down to Wellington because as we discovered through the workshops there is a large community of queer people in Wellington in isolation with no space where they feel safe enough to allow them to connect, network and celebrate what it means to be queer.
It was voiced to us by local queer folk that there is not enough representation of queer people here, no spaces created specifically for them to truly be their authentic selves where they feel safe enough to celebrate their identities.
What I would say to young queer people of the world is, your journey has just started. It’s not gonna be easy and not every battle is worth the fight but you will make it. I encourage you to never limit yourself.
Just like everyone else on this earth, the world is yours for the taking so use your power. You are loved and learn to celebrate what makes you different. You are deserving of everything so go out and get it.
I won grand prize in the Virgin Vogue category and became the first Wellingtonian to win grand prize at a Wellington Vogue Ball event.
The Virgin Vogue category is made for those performers who have been voguing for less than a year. Like any vogue performance category, you need to exhibit the five elements of vogue.
The theme for this category was Te Kore: the void, nothingness. For my look I asked myself “What would somebody who lives inside a black hole wear?”
Personally, I’ve always had a feminine energy about myself, but like any other queer POC I had to keep that cubby-holed away growing up. When I came across the YouTube channel Ballroom Throwbacks I immediately gravitated to vogue and ballroom culture, and have since spent hours watching and admiring it from my screen.
Finding out that there was a thriving scene in Aotearoa, my own backyard, I felt immediate relief.
It’s crazy to think that I am now a part of the scene and have something to contribute to such a beautiful community and art form; one that has and continues to influence mainstream media to this day.
And now, a history of ballroom, as told by Aniyah Aitu:
Ballroom evolved into its earliest form in the 1960s from drag pageants. Femme queens (trans women) who were often overlooked or neglected in spaces where white cis gay men thrived wanted to move way from these spaces to cultivate their own scene. They competed to meet set themes and take home trophies and awards.