By Laura Latzko
The TV show Pose has popularized the ballroom culture of the 1980s and ‘90s. During this time, balls provided a place where members of the LGBT community, especially people of color and transgender individuals, could showcase their creativity, beauty, fashion sense and dance skills on the runway.
Like on the TV show, LGBTQ people in houses often formed close-knit chosen families.
ArizonaDrag.com’s POSE: The Competition on Sept. 29 event brings a taste of ballroom culture to Arizona as houses and individuals go up against each other in themed categories.
Edward Castro, the founder of ArizonaDrag.com, said the event goes back to the roots of drag.
“I think that a competition like POSE is important to the drag community because that’s where drag got started was the ballroom. That’s where a lot of the drag terms got started,” Castro said.
Before the TV show Pose, ballroom style voguing was popularized by Madonna’s “Vogue” video and by dance groups such as Vogue Evolution, which appeared on season four of America’s Best Dance Crew.
Castro likens balls to today’s pageants.
“That was the first pageant-style competition, except they weren’t giving away crowns. They were giving away trophies,” Castro said.
The local competition is open to people of different gender identities and sexual orientations.
“There’s a category for everybody who is interested in participating because that’s how the ballroom scene was back in the day,” Castro said.
During the event, participants will compete in the categories of butch queen realness, face, vogue, and BQ/FQ/FF executive realness.
This year, participants will bring their best pair of bedazzled shoes for the themed pumps category.
The event is expected to grow with the addition of more competitors.
Last year, the contest featured two houses, one of which entered the competition last minute.
Audience members and a panel of five judges will decide on the top three winners, who will receive trophies and cash prizes.
The contestants’ looks and presentations will both be factored into the decisions.
The event will have a special guest performance by male entertainer and dancer Roman Tajoure, Mr. Gay Sin City Supreme USofA. Along with performing, he will also serve as a judge.
Individuals involved in the fashion, dance and shoe industries will also judge the competition.
The event will be hosted by local drag performer Lola VanHorn.
Alejandro Perez, one of the judges, was a contestant and judge in the ballroom scenes in New York and Florida. He said balls provided a space for LGBT people to be themselves and shine, but violence and fighting were also part of the ballroom scene.
During the 1980s and ‘90s, houses provided safe havens and support systems for LGBT people who had been kicked out of their homes.
“The ballroom scene has made stars of people who have been castaways. It has made people feel like celebrities, feel special and a part of something. They created families, which is the most positive, amazing and validating part of it all,” Perez said.
When he was involved with the ballroom scene in the mid-‘90s and early 2000s, many of the most revered contestants were transgender women. The term “femme queen” has often been used for transgender women in the ballroom scene.
Recently, “butch queens,” a term used for cisgender men who are more masculine-appearing, have become more prominent at balls.
Balls often have themes, and the looks are centered around these concepts. Many categories have specific guidelines based on color, texture or type of outfit.
Perez said the Phoenix competition won’t be exactly like the balls on the East Coast, but it will be in the same spirit.
“I like the fact that here they are embracing the fun part of it. It really is a throwback to our LGBT culture. I like that they are embracing the positive part of it,” Perez said.
Perez, a promoter in the Miss Continental pageant system, started out in the ballroom scene at age 16. He said it has always been close to his heart.
“I love the ballroom scene. It is part of who I am. It always will be, just like the drag pageantry scene,” Perez said.
POSE: The Competitiontakes place from 6-9 p.m. on Sunday, September 29 at The Rock, 4129 North Seventh Ave., in Phoenix. Admission is $10. Visit facebook.com/arizona.drag.