Members of the Emerson community are gearing up to strut the catwalk, dress in drag, and perform dances with condoms to compete for cash prizes at Emerson’s first ever Vogue Kiki Ball on April 26.
Junior Christopher Henderson-West, president of Emerson’s Advancement Group for Love and Expression, started planning the ball with voguing instructor London Lewis and EAGLE’s Haus of Emerson committee in March.
The Vogue Kiki Ball is an open competition with members from houses in the Kiki scene, Lewis said. The competition includes categories such as voguing, realness, and runway, according to EAGLE’s Facebook page. Henderson-West said Emerson students can also compete.
Voguing includes five different elements displayed in whichever performance the competitor chooses: catwalk, hand performance, floor work, dips and spins, and “duck walk,” or walking in a squatting position. Realness depends on how the performer can act and pass as straight, Lewis said.
Lewis said that, in LGBTQ+ culture, there is a “ballroom scene”—a place for the community to perform and compete in various competitive categories such as runway or best dressed. Within the ballroom scene, there is the Kiki scene and the main scene. The main scene is extravagant and competitive while the Kiki scene is more welcoming and targeted to younger people.
Within these two scenes are houses comprised of people identifying as LGBTQ+, known as “members” looking for a second home or a family. Houses resemble college Greek life, where members of the LGBTQ+ community must participate in an initiation process to join a house, Lewis said. He said the process depends on each house and each member who is initiated.
“[The Vogue Kiki Ball] is an event and an opportunity for people from Boston and Emerson to come together,” Lewis said. “[At the Vogue Kiki Ball] the school is coming into [Boston’s LGBTQ+] culture, and we’re coming into Emerson’s culture.”
The Vogue Kiki Ball will begin at 6 p.m. and the competition at 8 p.m. in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym on Friday, April 26.The cost of entry is $5 for students with an Emerson ID and $10 for non-Emerson students. Half the proceeds will go to the Emerson Office of Student Success’ Student Assistance Fund while the other half will go toward Boston GLASS, an organization dedicated to helping LGBTQ+ youth of color. The Student Assistance Fund helps Emerson students pay for transportation, food, and textbooks.
Lewis, a vogue instructor and member of House Mulan, one of the houses within the Kiki scene, said he originally reached out to Henderson-West for help with his fashion brand but ended up talking about creating the Vogue Kiki Ball together.
Henderson-West created the Haus of Emerson committee last October to celebrate and acknowledge queer and transgender people of color and their culture.
“I wanted to do something that brought more voice and served as a learning experience to people about ballroom culture,” Henderson-West said. “So, I created the Haus of Emerson experience.”
Henderson-West said nine people will judge the competition, and the winner of each competitive category will receive a cash prize. The amounts of the cash prizes vary depending on each category and range
s from $50 to $500, Henderson-West said. The judges include Sharon Duffy, the assistant vice president of student affairs, and members from houses such as House Mulan, House Gabanna, House Versace, House MCM, House Old Navy, House Pinklady, House Marciano, and House Emerson. He said EAGLE’s budget and donations will pay for the prizes.
Lewis said more than 200 members from nine or more houses will attend and perform at the Vogue Kiki Ball. He said members are coming from different states and countries such as France and Germany to compete.
EAGLE will hold vogue workshops every Sunday until the ball from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. in a Paramount studio for students to learn about how balls work and how to compete. EAGLE changes the location of the studio every week and publishes the location on its Facebook page. The next vogue workshop is on Sunday, April 14 in Paramount Studio 3.
Senior Caterina Aragon, a member of EAGLE, said she is excited to compete against professionals.
“This is the first time that we are going to be having a whole community of people involved in this culture come in and have it be a realistic Kiki ball,” Aragon said. “To have a Kiki ball at Emerson is wild, and to be surrounded by people who have been doing this as a profession is amazing.”
Lewis said members of a house typically choose which category and which style they want to perform during the preparation hours.
Aragon said she thinks students assume the Vogue Kiki Ball is similar to RuPaul’s Drag Race because students do not fully grasp ballroom culture and its history in the LGBTQ+ community. She said students should attend EAGLE’s vogue workshops to understand the Vogue Kiki Ball before attending or competing.
“A drag race is different compared to a Kiki ball,” Aragon said. “The histories are different; they’re related but different.”
Lewis said by creating the Vogue Kiki Ball, he hopes that Boston will start to become a creative space for the LGBTQ+ community.
“A lot of people go to New York because it is a mecca ballroom,” Lewis said. “Now, Boston needs to claim their territory and also needs to be like, ‘Hey, you guys are not the only ones out there who can throw big and extravagant balls.’”