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Glamour and Resilience: The Hidden Power of the Ballroom Scene

By: Nathaniel George

Glamour and Resilience: The Hidden Power of the Ballroom Scene

The ballroom scene was born out of the queer liberation movement, with origins among
Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ communities in late 20th-century Harlem, New York. At a time when
queer individuals who did not conform to the harsh binaries and norms of society were
ostracized, the ballroom scene offered refuge from discrimination. It also emerged as a form of
resistance against the hateful rhetoric that sought to push LGBTQ+ individuals out of New
York’s neighborhoods. The structure for the ballroom scene involved legendary houses, with
“mothers” and “fathers” who would guide the house “children”, and take them under their wing.
This represented a chosen family built upon acceptance, which served as a crucial beacon of love
for many Black and brown queer youth, who were homeless and alone on the streets of New
York after being rejected by their families for who they were.

A conglomeration of social and cultural groups, the ballroom scene itself combines
various events, such as pageantry, fashion, and vogue, which is a dance form. The culmination of
the scene is found in the balls, which are glamorous events attended by members of the iconic
houses. Houses train intensely for these balls, sending their fiercest competitors to walk in
different categories, such as butch or femme queen, runway walk, vogue categories, as well as
many more. Within the vogue form, there are also 5 elements that comprise vogue performance:
spins/dips, catwalks, duckwalks, hand performance, and floor performance. A
physically-demanding ordeal, the vogue category serves as yet another aspect of the ballroom
scene which encourages community, by allowing for powerful self-expression through sharp and
fluid movement.

The ballroom scene, and especially vogue, has seen a rise in popular culture, appearing in
fashion campaigns, social media, music, movies such as Paris is Burning, and TV shows such as
Legendary, Pose, and RuPaul’s Drag Race. With this heightened rise in prominence, however,
comes the unfortunate occurrence of appropriation. Ballroom appropriation has taken the form
of ballroom-centric vernacular being used frequently by non-members of the community, and
elements of vogue being utilized in choreography and dances across social media. Most recently,
Beyonce’s album Renaissance, which draws heavily on elements from ballroom culture and
vogue, lost in the 2023 Grammys “Album of the Year” category. Many saw Renaissance’s loss as
a symbol of the greater issue within Hollywood and pop culture of queer and black culture being
plagiarized and replicated, without being given proper credit. The problem lies not in the fact
that ballroom has grown, but in the fact that in many instances it is drawn on in ignorance,
without a full understanding of the full social and political historical importance of the scene for
marginalized LGBTQ+ communities of color. And in many instances, the individuals who now
utilize ballroom and vogue elements are ironically the same individuals who the pioneers of the
ballroom scene sought to escape by creating it.

Within Arizona, the ballroom scene is still developing. Though cities such as New York,
Los Angeles, and Philadelphia might boast ballroom support systems with years of historical
precedence, the Phoenix scene is on the rise, thanks to the hard work and passionate activism of
the Kiki House of Paragon. Founded in 2020 by activist and educator Rylee Prodigy, the Kiki
House was established to introduce the ballroom scene to Arizona. It is important to note the
distinction between kiki houses and main houses, with kiki houses competing in the kiki scene
and overall being less competitive than the main ballroom scene. This helped to further the Kiki
House of Paragon’s goal of being an accessible point of entry to the ballroom scene for queer
youth in Arizona, allowing them a safe space of expression without the overtly cutthroat
mentality that can sometimes be found in the main scene.

I recently had the privilege to interview the Kiki House of Paragon’s Arizona House
Father, Avery Paragon, and Arizona House Mother, Elle Paragon. In our conversations, I was
able to delve into their personal experiences of being introduced to the ballroom scene through
Rylee Prodigy and subsequently falling in love with it. Rylee, a lifelong dancer, was introduced to
the scene through the Urban Dance program, as part of her Dance Education major at Arizona
State University. She attributed the ignition of her ballroom passion to Professor Marcus White,
who encouraged her to attend balls and explore the history behind the vogue dance form, as well
as her participation in the Arizona Raw Talent Dance Crew, which was centered around vogue
performance. Her passion was then transmitted to Father Avery and Mother Elle, who were
asked by Rylee to lead the Arizona Kiki House. On the experience of working with Rylee, Father
Avery remarked, “It allowed me to understand what vogue is, that it is a smaller portion of the
whole entire culture, which is ballroom culture.” Mother Elle added, “I was able to learn that
ballroom culture encompasses so many parts of queer expression, such as fashion, runway,
bizarre and avant-garde fashion, face, and much more.”

As a newly evolving house, the Kiki House of Paragon is working on developing
programming and events to strengthen the ballroom scene in Arizona. Iconic ballroom legends
such as Slim Extravaganza, Isla Ebony, Omari Oricci, and many others, have graced the Arizona
scene to educate and empower. The Kiki House of Paragon creatively assembles and facilitates
many different functions to keep the spirit of ballroom alive, with the hope of ultimately
achieving a scene parallel to those in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. In
terms of programming, the Kiki House hosts Vogue Nights every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the
Month, as an inviting space for everyone to come to and express themselves. For the younger
crowd, the Kiki House also hosts a class taught by Mother Elle in the JukeBox dance studio
every other Wednesday, which teaches the fundamentals of vogue.

With a rise in appreciation for the ballroom scene, however, comes an even greater need
for adequate education on the topic. After using the term death drop in our interview, Mother
Elle corrected me and explained that, “It’s actually not called death drop, it’s called a dip. That’s
something that people have gotten confused with from drag culture.” Celebrating ballroom
culture in its entirety requires not only delving into its rich and illustrious history but also
requires shedding preconceived notions or misconceptions about what the ballroom scene is and
looks like. Doing so allows for proper education on and appreciation for ballroom culture, an
often overlooked and underappreciated aspect of LGBTQ+ culture. The ballroom scene is
incredibly important now more than ever, allowing queer youth the power of self-expression
through the work of those fearless Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ pioneers, all those years ago in
New York.

To connect with The Kiki House of Paragon to learn more about the ballroom scene in
Arizona and potential opportunities, follow them on Instagram @kikihouseofparagon or visit
them at

Hart, Benji & Roberson, Michael. “The Ballroom Scene Has Long Offered Radical Freedoms For
Black and Brown Queer People. Today, That Matters More Than Ever.” TIME Magazine, 21 Feb.
House of Luna. “Ball Categories.” House of Luna,
Kiki House of Paragon. “Vogue House of Arizona.” Kiki House of Paragon,