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.

Aniyah Aitu

857489E9 00AB 4485 9AFF 4DC563846BC6 774F0E85 9555 4191 A461 08455EB15244

Aniyah Aitu (front) at the Vogue Ball.

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. 

1ABD0A69 A87A 4886 8CE3 CD3984AF16A8 B061B609 EA85 4F53 8316 22DAACB7ED9E

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.

1CFA96E6 563F 4B52 A2CF 3EBCDCDD57C3 50975FC8 7B2F 4495 92BA F358F51FA539

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.

Khiyara Aitu

F96FB232 4C02 4D43 A83A 8B3AB115664A E6708045 B604 4E2C 90C3 7C32FA3008CF

Khiyara Aitu performing at the ball.

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. 

1F09F99B 03D0 4F74 8CF9 985B22F7460E FCF64E84 2DB1 4611 920E EE91EA0FB057

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. 

2ABB8BFE 1456 45A8 B76C 8D6FA4E94C8C EB48C252 A616 4738 8B8F FC21E25651DA

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. 

3B2C7EBC AF86 4D22 AEE2 D9DCB43E1423 5AC76539 E7E1 4184 AF3C F25D94E76229

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. 

4DD3543E D639 4277 8B55 2F9F30B35EBF 019511CD 696B 44C9 BFFA DEC48C9676C5

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.


13333829 EA10 4A3F A7E0 AE2399179368

Carym at the Aitu vogue ball.

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.

5BE6FCD6 D609 4332 92AA 9B0FF278A5B1 4D08A45A 89FF 43E7 BD28 4831622D6D0B

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. 

62CF5411 8A56 4E8A 8059 719E7E8EAD88 FD50A669 692F 4CDD A5FB D793ED58F717

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.

76938590 FF86 4BA7 BCA3 87FFA300A0E0 DD2509CC 9EE5 4921 93B5 DFA83AFCB64A


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. 

79479133 5528 4607 B5E7 6DF994110B19 8EEF1794 E55B 472A A556 FE4F32BAF87E

Eventually, femme queens opened up to organizing balls for the everyone else to walk as well. Vogue balls, as we know them today, were developed to give a sense of belonging and safety to society's most outcast freaks and weirdos within Harlem, New York in the late 1980s. In those days to be an LGBTQIA+ person of colour was more than enough to meet those titles [of being an outcast]. Most walkers in the United States back then and now are either Black or Latino. 

7E4F5DF4 7F01 4998 8C96 7F39EEF04143 7E765852 ACE8 4715 81DE D891A9CF4E0B

Many young queer kids kicked out of their homes in the 80s for being gay found solace in the comfort of a house "mother" and house "father" figure when recruited into a 'house'. Many houses exist; all named after a particular effect that is given or after a fashion brand.

Like The House of Balenciaga (a fashion brand) or The House of Coven-Carangi (emulating a coven of witches).

91B8716D 6ABD 481B BA9D FB978172339B 5F26D1AB 0818 416E BF31 1A1D909BEC84

Houses are like a family, they are like a home. Every member is expected to walk or help out with winning trophies at a ball under the direction of their parents. Auckland is just starting to implement houses into our ballroom scene and slowly growing our appetite for a competitive space between them all. 

Due to the fact that vogue houses emulate a family dynamic, the mother and father always come at the very top of the hierarchy in a vogue house. Though they are to be treated with the utmost respect and favour, as their titles suggest, they in turn always put their kids' needs first. 

98E375FC 4B9B 4FA9 8395 34B28D1E2DF4 63D9F8EB 8356 4EDC 91AF 28F83F098E74

The children of the house will cascade in rank usually by the amount of time spent being a part of the house. Those around longer are generally more revered, just like older siblings. In general though, the children are all siblings of the same family and are generally treated as equals. They are looked after and look up to their mother and father.

9C6AC168 854E 465E 8944 7018A8BAFD3A DCC6EBE1 DC41 4B13 AA5F 7BE066320128

Many styles of vogue been invented and reinvented over the years, but today's most viral and popular form of voguing is called vogue femme. This is the style of voguing you mostly see on television and in music videos right now. 

B190FDBA A6FF 4ECD 8DCF 65748C86F82A CEF8B20A AE4A 47EC 9C89 783951D68138

Vogue femme is comprised of five elements: hand performance, catwalk, duckwalk, floor performance, spins and dips.

C1AD4BBA 10C2 4E50 87B9 8C2A79791860 482BB44F 41E8 418E BC62 373D1A31F7AA

In New Zealand, FAF SWAG held and facilitated New Zealand's first ever vogue balls in Ōtara in 2013 through the suggestion of Mother Mistress Coven-Carangi. Though the first balls lacked serious education and authenticity to the real deal in America, time has been kind to the scene, and today we have a community that recognises that ballroom culture must be approached as both an homage to the original creators in the US and as a place to welcome and invite those keen to participate in a truly liberating experience.

C4C3739C 0129 4703 A680 DC7D7947033F 6D0A9633 F63E 4C79 A0EF 4CAA473B6268

Today FAF SWAG holds many accolades, and one that is truly outstanding is the starting of New Zealand’s first underground ballroom scene in Auckland - bringing together a community of queer friends that want to let their freak flag fly. 

C4CE7D8C 8259 4DB9 BA1B 7C823A91FBB7 3C3CED4E 1CDB 4376 9269 9FEF17B38338

FAF SWAG is leading the way in encouraging our young queer people of colour to find who they are and to love the skin they're in.

D4FB6C14 3BA9 4739 AE5F 71EF07D4A7F2 C1B12BC7 E78B 4C61 854A 526B8447998A

D760BBD4 67B0 4CDE 8F70 43F5F7EC3A4D 16F655D3 0E8D 418E B43E 10CC3B649156

D96663AE E764 4BC5 BE36 AF592D8B3425 D29B090D AD42 4AD3 B911 6101A15673B3

DEB5A12A 7C4C 432C 9A31 A5F2C384264C EFAE91BB A594 46C0 BB9C 850B97F8538B

ED8C332F 77AB 4C81 B7B3 891DEF805E1D FB1ECF86 97B4 4DE5 A225 8E77B1314F3D

F01DBDFC B85C 4426 AD57 1E53A835B79F 6A22E34E 448A 4809 BEAB A93A3A8622A2

F573EA89 9FF8 43B8 B340 3F2576830055 A1CE234B E2BA 4B9B 9D23 2CE214D16920

FC0A98D5 412B 4B21 8032 14FB4CC002EE A5E213CB 1F16 4762 B86E 1350E6CC3B31

FD52AD1E 6434 47AA 81B6 28208789F911