Launched last year, FUNCTION is a Toronto-based platform for everything Ballroom: culture, stories, events and education. Recently, they brought Ballroom royalty through our doors for our collaborative “Class of ’23” sessions, an ongoing series centering sexual health, community and movement. We gathered monthly to talk about history, sex ed and the courageous creative expression of voguing, as led by four of Ballroom’s most influential figures. Tears, cheers, breakthrough moments on the floor — the effects of FUNCTION remind us how alive and how staggeringly inextricable sweetness and pain can feel.
Below, FUNCTION lays down five pillars of Ballroom.
Ballroom’s been around for over five decades but has grown to be all the rage over recent years—at least, for the public. It always has been for us. Its resurgence in pop culture, reminiscent of the times following Madonna’s “Vogue,” has brought both challenge and opportunity. Opportunity, because we’re able to gain mainstream traction, helping better fund community initiatives and propelling some of Ballroom’s top participants into the limelight. Challenge, because more and more people want the clout with absolutely nothing to do with what sits below the glory, extravagance and glamour.
Chatting with our guests, we found similar themes often bubbled up. We selected five. Five principles to inform your approach to Ballroom. Five things we think you should know whether you’ve been around for 10 years or you’re just now getting a first peek into our world.
Icon Queen Mother Meeka Alpha Omega. Photo by Kirk Lisaj
Meeka is a mother, Hall of Famer, and well-respected fixture of the House and Ballroom community, hitting the floor with fervour since the mid-1990s.
Parenthood lays at the very core of Ballroom. It always has. Mothers and fathers — tenured community members, with more experience and better resources, having often gone through the wringer themselves — have swooped in, one generation after the other, taking queer youth under their wings and making up for the shortcomings of their kids’ biological families. From housing to emotional support and teaching them the skills needed to venture out on their own, parents have held this community together, laying the groundwork for the culture to blossom.
Legendary Pusscee West. Photo by Kirk Lisaj
Pusscee is a true prodigy and the epitome of Butch Queen Vogue Fem. Her decade-long journey into Ballroom has made her one of very few.
Like any other art form, we all experience plateaus. Self-doubt settles in, and we wonder if we’ve still got it. Weathering the ebbs and flows and keeping to our craft is how the best of us become Ballroom royalty. Turning inward through practice, withstanding the pressure and remaining consistent, on and off the floor, helping define the culture of tomorrow, always pays off in the long run.
Legendary Father Malik Miyake-Mugler. Photo by Kirk Lisaj
A new father, Malik has dedicated over 10 years to his craft and community, leveraging his talent and grit to propel himself to incredible heights.
Ballroom is part fantasy — a world where folks, kicked to the curb for being who they are, get to experience a sliver of what life could have, should have, would have been like had they fallen within the confines of heteronormativity. But dreams are often more ripe for the plucking than you’d imagine, and Ballroom can be an incredible launchpad for those who relentlessly gun for what’s soon to be theirs.
Icon Kevin JZ Prodigy. Photo by Kirk Lisaj
One of the most striking voices you’ll ever hear, Kevin is a master of the mic, a master of performance and a master of emotions.
For many of us, our Ballroom experience is so intrinsically linked to pain. Facing alienation from friends and family, systemic inequalities targeting BIPOC and queer folks and society telling us we’ll never be worthy enough to belong — it takes a toll. But, Ballroom is how we cope. It’s how we find deliverance. It’s why our art resonates so deeply. It’s a reflection of our struggles and the resilience we need to overcome them.
FUNCTION “Class of ’23”. Photo by Kirk Lisaj
There comes a point where the path, forged by those who came before us, comes to an end. Honouring our history — those we’ve lost and those still around to enjoy the fruits of their labour; a labour of love, of sacrifice, of joy and freedom — newer generations have the important duty to carry Ballroom forward with intention. It’s saved the lives of so many and is bound to save the lives of many more. It wouldn’t be fair to jeopardize the chance — already so rare and fleeting — for future queer and BIPOC youth to come into their own, too.
Here’s where we meet, at the end of the path, with learnings of our own and a bit of advice. Learn first and be thoughtful in your approach. If you’re one of the girls, help us build an even greater legacy for our children to enjoy — and for them to do the same for their own.
Join FUNCTION for the next edition of “Class of ‘23”, Friday, Sept 22 at Ace Hotel Toronto.
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