“When Madonna came out with her hit “Vogue” you knew it was over. She had taken a very specifically queer, transgendered, Latino and African-American phenomenon and totally erased that context with her lyrics, “It makes no difference if you’re black or white, if you’re a boy or a girl.” Madonna was taking in tons of money, while the Queen who actually taught her how to vogue sat before me in the club, strung out, depressed and broke. So if anybody requested “Vogue” or any other Madonna track, I told them, “No, this is a Madonna-free zone! And as long as I’m DJ-ing, you will not be allowed to vogue to the decontextualized, reified, corporatized, liberalized, neutralized, asexualized, re-genderized pop reflection of this dance floor’s reality!” – Terre Thaemlitz
Our dance floor is political, these bodies are in ritual.
Our lineage calls upon a sacred blasphemy that dares to.
O-P-U-L-E-N-C-E: Opulence! [We] own everything. Everything is [ours].
Our Histories, as a Queer community with no state, and family with no allegiance to blood ties are often erased from hegemonic historical discourse and teachings of it. In those few and far between instances where Queer narratives are represented and taught in the mainstream, it is predominantly from a “decontextualized, reified, corporatized, liberalized, neutralized, asexualized, re-genderized” insidious white washed reflection of their realities. Cue a montage of cis and heteronormative white actors playing Queer, Trans and Non-Binary folk from Brokeback Mountain, to Dallas Buyers Club and Call Me by Your Name; “Rainbows are just refracted white light” (DarkMatter Poetry). The deeply political, radical and complex History of ball culture, drag queens and the tributaries of Queer, Trans and Non-Binary cultural production and life-making such as voguing, reading and shade, that flow from them have not been spared from this hegemonic white washing. However, away from the pathological and tired gaze of whiteness Black and POC Queer, Trans and Non-Binary folk have been and are still engaged in doing the work and casting spells of resistance through it in our way, for us and by us.
Le Grand Ball; brainchild of Mandima Qunta and Treyvonne Moo aka the Original Hunty and Vogue Nights Jozi, founded in 2018 by Ntsikelelo Zane Meslani – popularly known as Lelowhatsgood are two of these cultural entities working within the social ecology of Joburg night life. Both are committed to doing the hard work of cultivating spaces for Black and POC Queer, Trans and Non-binary folk to flourish in joy and community. Vogue Nights Jozi and Le Grand Ball aim to redefine and reimagine the nightlife scene in the city by cultivating safer spaces for Queer, Trans and Non-Binary bodies rooted in ballroom culture. The movements push the boundaries of music, fashion and dance; cultivating a Home space for bodies that are usually relegated to the periphery of the city’s social and cultural imagination. This year, AFROPUNK Joburg brings us The Championship Ball, in collaboration with Le Grand Ball and Vogue Nights Jozi.
The Championship Ball will bring together houses from Johannesburg and all around the country to compete in a runway presentation across four categories. Joburg based House of Diamonds and House of Rêve will be joined by a 3rd house; the winner of the upcoming Le Grand Ball. The winning house will walk away with a cash prize and crowned as the grand champion. The notion of “safe spaces” is a complicated web, however, the growing number of spaces that choose to do the brave work of our community while also showing up for our complicated and kaleidoscopic experiences and histories as Queer, Trans and Non-Binary Black and Brown folk, demonstrate that “another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing” (Arundhati Roy), or see her strutting with reckless abandon in the ball.