Get ready to strike a pose when First Person Arts and the African American Museum of Philadelphia present “Engaging Males of Color: Legendary!” Nov. 13.
Almost 30 years after the documentary “Paris is Burning” and Madonna brought vogueing into the mainstream, “Legendary!” celebrates the latest generation of ballroom culture as international transgender performer and activist Leiomy Maldonado, Xcel Dance Crew and choreographer Kemar Jewel team up for an evening of dance and storytelling.
“This event will provide a safe space for the community to hear remarkable stories from men who will use their artistry to demonstrate courage and vulnerability as they display through live-dance performances the myriad of experiences and challenges queer men of color face day to day,” said Gabriel Bryant, coordinator of Engaging Males of Color, an initiative of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. “Their unique challenges and triumphs will be presented in an engaging and supportive way to raise awareness of the issues and circumstances they are forced to navigate and overcome, reduce stigma and promote wellness.”
Choreographer Jewel added that younger generations of performers have gravitated towards ball culture because it celebrates performers who often don’t get a chance to express themselves in other venues.
“Ballroom has endured for so long because it is such a unique place that fulfills such specific needs,” he said. “Queer and trans people, especially of color, can go and be celebrated, loved and respected for being creative and feminine. Also, what other place can you go and hear a trans woman of color’s name be announced and the entire room stand up to clap and cheer her on?”
Though the scene has endured, it has also evolved, Jewel noted.
“The younger generation is doing an amazing job of rediscovering and reimagining the ballroom scene. There is now a subdivision of the ballroom scene called the kiki scene that focuses on youth leadership, talent development, exploring new talents and engaging with mental- and sexual-health resources,” Jewel said. “The kiki scene is just like the name, a kiki. The kiki scene is primarily on the East Coast but is now stretching all around the world. I walked and won a kiki ball in Paris last week.”
Jewel added that while the origins of and the fan base for these performances are rooted primarily in the LGBT community, that doesn’t mean the events, including “Legendary!” strictly have LGBT audiences.
“I think people see keywords like ‘vogueing,’ ‘ballroom’ [and] ‘trans’ and automatically assume it’s for a certain person or type of people,” he said. “That is false. The wonderful thing about this production is that it tackles issues that many people go through, no matter what walk of life they’re from. This show talks about gender, homelessness, depression, parental approval, judgment from society and the list goes on. I guarantee if everyone in Philadelphia came to this show, they would all identify something they can relate with.”
Ball culture and vogueing were in the zeitgeist for a brief moment, which led us to ask whether the new generation of performers prefers the art form to go mainstream again or remain underground.
“You know it’s funny, I’ve always wondered why everyone wants to be famous,” Jewel said. “In my opinion — and my dancers and performers share a similar mentality — when art is kept ‘underground’ or in more unique spaces, it can be as free and as dynamic as you want it to be. Usually when people start funding projects and the media gets involved and you start building a name [and] a brand for yourself, you always start to receive a list of things you can’t do. So in my opinion, I love the exposure and the hype of big crowds and being associated with big names, but if you truly want to do whatever you want to do, keep it underground.”
First Person Arts presents “Engaging Males of Color: Legendary!” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill St. For more information or tickets, visit https://www.undergroundarts.org/event/1586110-first-person-arts-beyond-philadelphia/.