Toronto Ballroom & the Power of Community
When Leiomy Maldonado, judge on the ballroom TV competition Legendary on HBO, tweeted about its cancellation, reactions from fans were disappointed to say the least. The cancellation was disheartening because it felt like the shutting down of ballroom’s TV entrance into the mainstream. A program like Legendary, that entertains and offers educational stories documenting ballroom’s pivotal role in queer history, is necessary.
Whether show programmers at HBO like it or not, however, ballroom is very much alive. Much like the queer community itself, resilience and strength are the two core pillars of the art form.
Toronto has been blessed with a vibrant scene all its own. The Toronto Kiki Ballroom Alliance (TKBA) is the go-to guide for all things ballroom in the city. A “for-youth-by-youth” organization, TKBA was founded to bring the artform into Toronto with its inception back in 2010. Currently, Toronto has several active houses, including Pink Lady, Old Navy, Constantine, Siriano, Louboutin, Imperium, Poseida, Telfar and Santa Evita.
We sat down with ballroom legends including, a 007 and members of the houses Old Navy and Telfar to learn more.
Legendary Overseer Venus Old Navy
Legendary Overseer Venus Old Navy has over ten years under her belt as a participant in the city’s scene. She explains that a house is a safe space. “It is somewhere where I want to feel accepted. I want to feel that the people in my house are my chosen family, to feel safe around them. One of the things that really pushed me to stay in ballroom for so long was that it helped me gain confidence. I became who I am through ballroom and I could have only gotten that in the house that gave me the space to do it.”
Clover Chen, 007
Clover Chen is new to the scene and currently a 007, meaning they’re a ballroom participant without a house. “Watching all of my friends, they all seem really happy with who they have chosen, I think the house they chose really fits them and who they are as people,” they explain. “I think that’s a really important part of joining a house, I don’t want to join a house that isn’t the right fit.“
Chen explains that the significance of houses in ballroom comes from their history and what they symbolize. “Houses were originally made up of real kids that were thrown out of their homes for being queer or trans or any type of non-conforming identity. They were forced onto the streets to take care of one another and form those ‘chosen families.’ That’s why the community and the pillars of ballroom are so strong because it was almost a form of survival for a lot of people.”
House of Old Navy
The four pillars of the house of Old Navy are “dedication, greatness, distinction, and respect.” Legendary Overseer Venus explains that, to her, the house of Old Navy represents the future. “I feel happy with the direction that Old Navy is going, and I think the word that makes me feel most comfortable is future.”
“The vision that I have for the house now is that I really don’t want to be so focused on winning balls, that is a component of a house, but that isn’t the main focus,” explains Father Senbo Old Navy. “I want the main focus to be that the kids know that [House of Old Navy] is a safe space. They can come to me with anything, I won’t judge them. I want them to feel that they can grow without feeling the pressure of winning. It’s about growing in ballroom, growing in their talents, growing their skills and learning what works versus doesn’t work for them.”
House of Telfar
Introducing itself to the world with a debut at the “World’s AIDS Day Ball,” the house of Telfar is a recent inductee into TKBA’s ranks. The Toronto chapter was entrusted to Father GQ, a Toronto ballroom participant with over eight years in the game, by Jah Jah 007 and Mylse Mugler, the Father and Mother of house Telfar in New York City.
“We’re called the artistic house of Telfar, so everyone in the house has some kind of connection to art, whether it’s painting, whether it’s photography, there’s some connection to art within every person that’s in the house,” explains Father GQ. “My favourite part about being a part of ballroom was having my first kids. They made me know that I could actually be a father because they trust me with everything.”
If you or anyone you know is looking to enter the city’s ballroom scene yourself, TKBA offers beginner vogue classes every Tuesday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
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Thomas Publow is a contributor at Glossi Mag. Currently finishing his degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University, Thomas considers himself an expert in all things VMAs and Beyoncé.