Ballroom culture, an underground network of support, performance and competition for LGBTQ+ people of color, might be more commonly associated with New York City, where it originated. But ball culture is growing in the Pacific Northwest, in interesting and unique ways.
The Royal Youth Kiki Ball recently took over the street next to the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle’s Central District to bring the local community back together in public for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
The ball “really centered on bringing people together out of a dark space of the past one-and-a-half years,” said Dani Tirrell, one of the organizers, who is the season curator for the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas. The CD Forum hosted the event with the Royal House of Noir, which functions as kinship and chosen family for those involved.
The pandemic was doubly hard for many people in the LGBTQ+ community. “You’re already isolated from your blood family, and then you’re isolated from your chosen family,” Tirrell said. “It’s so important for our youth kingdom to connect.”
Television shows like “Pose” on FX and “Legendary” on HBO have brought ballroom culture more into the mainstream, which isn’t always a reflection of reality, Tirrell cautions.
“Shows like ‘Pose’ make straight people comfortable,” Tirrell said, citing that trans bodies shown on TV look a certain way. “What I appreciate about the Northwest ball scene is that it pulls away from the mainstream standards.”
Tirrell described the local scene as more expansive and less rigid in regard to gender. “We have different conversations centered around our expressions.
“It’s a space where people can feel seen, feel heard, be a superstar, a legend,” Tirrell said.
“There’s movement and dance … It’s a space of competition, it’s a space of fashion, it’s a space of boldness.”
And after a year in isolation, it’s also a space of physical togetherness for the community.