Strike a pose, shante, work it, throw shade, fierceness — these phrases have their origins in gay ball culture. If you’ve watched RuPaul’s Drag Race, seen the documentary Paris is Burning, or recall Madonna’s Vogue video, then you already know a bit about the scene, in which voguers compete in categories like “catwalk” and “realness” for trophies.
Equal parts fantasy, fashion show, and dance-off, the attitude-heavy events started in 1980s New York and quickly spread throughout the world. Bangkok will have its first this Saturday, dubbed the Diversity Kiki Ball.
Despite a storied drag performer subculture — Thailand was the first country outside the US to get its own Ru-approved series, Drag Race Thailand — and beloved gay scene, Thailand has never had a ball or native voguers. That changed a few years ago when Phitthaya “Sun” Phaefuang, known professionally as Amazon Sun, took his first vogue class after years of studying ballet, contemporary, and modern dance.
Today, Sun is Thailand’s foremost voguer and dedicated to bringing the culture to the country. Since learning the basics five years ago, he’s watched endless hours of Youtube, learning the flourishes and intricacies of the art form. He’s traveled the world taking classes and competing, also known as “walking in a ball.” He’s developed his own style and brought home trophies. He also teaches what he’s learned to handfuls of ball hopefuls, or “children,” as they’re called in the scene.
Check out a clip of Sun’s signature Vogue Femme style:
After battling in Thai costume in the Philippines, taking classes in New York, and joining the House of Amazon (more on houses later), he hopes to do for voguing what Bangkok’s most famous drag talent, Pangina Heals — also the host of Drag Race Thailand — did for the dance form of waacking –– become its ambassador in Thailand.
Sun admits that he may not be the best voguer on the scene, having only studied for a few years so far, but he’s become known all over Asia as the only Thai voguer and the one tirelessly working to create a scene in his country — which includes creating a ball that he hopes will be an annual event, teaching classes, and hosting visiting dancers in his own apartment.
What is voguing?
The move-and-pose dance form originally began as a competition between two people that didn’t like each other, as a way to prove the better dancer. In the dance, whoever comes with better moves is “shading” their competitor. Those moves might include fast-moving hand gestures interspersed with poses that show off flexibility and miming actions like putting on makeup or looking in mirrors.
The postures come directly from the pages of the high fashion magazine of the same name. There are also bits of breakdancing and gymnastics thrown in alongside crazy, back bending postures.
“It’s fierce. You don’t come to a ball to mademoiselle, you come to vogue,” as Willi Ninja says in Paris is Burning.
Sun said that it’s much more technical than it looks, and that learning it is as detailed and demanding as ballet. Over the years, the genres have evolved into things much different from what they were in the ‘80s. Sun’s personal favorite subgenre, vogue femme, is known for its deep back arching poses and fluttery hand movements.
What to expect at the ball?
The ball will consist of anyone that wants to walk in the categories of old way and new way voguing, butch queen vogue femme, women’s performance, American runway, European Runway, face, drag face, and sex siren. Already signed up are voguers from Japan, the Philippines, and Singapore.
Emceeing the event is well-known Japanese ball personality Konomi Shishido from the House of Mizrahi, the same house as all of the judges: Amaguri Mizrahi (from Japan) Xyza Ragunjan (from the Philippines), and Eva Mizrahi (Bangkok-based Russian).
Walkers can be in drag — and often were in the beginning — but today, they’re more likely to simply be dressed in their own version of fierce, whatever that may be.
The word “Kiki” also provides a clue that Saturday’s event is part of an emerging scene. “A kiki ball is something you attend before you get to the real world of balls and voguing. It’s more like a school where you educate yourself about the battles and vogue culture. It’s for beginners,” explained Sun.
Houses and Families
Voguers often share a professional last name, like Mizrahi, Extravaganza, Dupree, or Saint Laurent. Called houses or families, these groups used to act as actual families, living together and sharing resources in New York when many of the dancers’ families had turned their backs on their sons for being gay. Each house also developed a reputation for certain kinds of dance moves, behavior, or slang phrases.
These days, the houses have members all over the world and association with a house can be much less intimate. Dancers might join a family of people that they’ve only met a few times but feel a kinship with, and the members will look out for each other in any way they can, cheering each other on at balls and even offering up a spare bed when a “family member” comes through town.
On Saturday, walkers and watchers can expect an event filled with fun, glamour, wit, fierceness and loads of realness. As Ninja said, “In a ballroom you can be anything you want.”
Diversity Kiki Ball
Penta, at Ekkamai Road (between Soi 26 & 28)
Saturday, Dec. 8, 6-10pm
Entry: THB250 (free to walk in the ball)