Ballroom culture coming to the Long Beach Pride Festival

Ballroom culture will make its Long Beach Pride debut — but this isn’t the waltz or foxtrot.

The “Rhythm of the Rainbow Ball,” a new feature of the annual Long Beach Pride Festival, will showcase more than 20 diverse performers from around Los Angeles and Orange counties on Saturday evening, May 18.

House of Ninjaan international group of LGBTQ+ and ally performers, will throw “the ball” at the Pride Festival’s main stage at 6 p.m. The event will feature different performance categories, such as vogue and vogue femme, with participants competing, in front of judges, for cash prizes and trophies.

Destiny Gray is a “princess” for the L.A. chapter of House of Ninjawhere she teaches ballroom, helps run meetings and cares for other house — or chapter — members. As one of the chapter’s founding members, she has been involved in L.A.’s diverse ballroom culture scene for the last eight years and is proud to be able to share this part of her life with her community.

“It means a lot to be able to combine the love of my city and my passion for ballroom together,” the 31-year-old Long Beach resident said. “I’m excited because there’s not much ballroom presence in Long Beach, so I’m really trying to cultivate and curate ballroom people within the city. That way we can have more balls here in Long Beach and it won’t be so foreign to people.”

For the uninitiated, ballroom refers to a competitive, inclusive subculture for primarily Black, Latinx and other communities of color in and beyond the LGBTQ+ community. Through often choreographed, stand-out performances that comment on race, class and gender, historians say, that ballroom culture was created as a way to combat racism and homophobia. It became a way for Black and Latinx people to find their own collective, as a response to discrimination they faced within New York’s predominately White drag pageant scene, in the 1970s and earlier.

Ballroom, festival organizer Eugene De Guzman said, has been a “safe space” for marginalized communities.

“For a long time, there were no centers, no gay-straight alliances; a lot of the LGBTQ+ people were just treated as outcasts,” De Guzman said. “This (ballroom) was a space where people could really lean into being themselves, expressing themselves for who they are and what they want to be.”

De Guzman said he saw the importance of bringing ballroom as a culture, competition and whole “healing” art form to a wider audience at this year’s Pride Festival, which takes place Saturday and Sunday. The event was going to include ballroom lessons, but those were scrapped instead for Long Beach’s first major ball competition.

Performing, De Guzman said, helps participants “start to embody confidence.”

“What I love is, with it being a competition, it can get really fierce,” he said. “But then at the end of that category or battle, there’s always a hug or acknowledgment of each other’s work and still having love for each other, despite how hard they’ll go for each other when competing.”

Ballroom features often fashionably dressed performers competing in a range of categories, including:

  • Voguing: a highly stylized form of hitting poses, catwalks, hands, floor performance, duckwalks, spins and more on beat. It originated in ballroom but was popularized with Madonna’s 1990 hit song, “Vogue.”
  • Vogue femme: A type of voguing that features typically hyper-feminine looks and dances.
  • Face: a style more focused on the structure of one’s face, and displaying elements such as eyes, nose, skin, structure and teeth.

Ballroom has come into mainstream popularity over the last few years, with shows such as FX’s “Pose” and HBO Max’s “Legendary.” Artists like Madonna and Beyoncé also featured ballroom performances on stage during their world tours last year.

Within LGBTQ+ ballroom culture, “houses” refer to a form of a found family, and are meant to be safe, creative and accepting spaces. The houses are seen as a lifeline for queer and transgender people, with family members often taking on the house name as their “last name” while performing. Leaders, called “house mothers,” take on parental and leadership roles, guiding the newer ballroom members, called “children,” and providing training and lessons.

The house structure is seen as a substitution for the typical family structure — usually for trans people who weren’t fully accepted by their families, members said.

Gray, for example, has seven “children” within the L.A. chapter of House of Ninja, which started in April 2019. The house gained some notoriety after competing on the inaugural season of “Legendary.”

Gray — whose ballroom name is “Destiny Ninja” — is a host and longtime participant of the ballroom scene. As a Black woman and an ally, Gray said she always felt welcomed because “a lot of ballroom and LGBTQ+ jargon is deeply rooted in African American culture — so I never felt out of place.”

One of Gray’s children, Klaude Matias, will compete in Saturday’s ball in the “performance” category. Matias — who is Filipino and identifies as nonbinary — said they are happy to see the diversity prioritized in ballroom culture, and is excited to see it come into the mainstream.

“Ballroom is made up of majority beautiful trans and BIPOC people,” Matias said. “In the ‘normal world,’ those communities are not welcomed, but in ball, they’re the power players and ones we admire.”

Matias emphasized the importance of being among other queer creators, and said they have been able to explore gender and queerness through becoming a member of House of Ninja LA.

“Having this support system both from our sisters and mothers is really quite beautiful and unique,” Matias said. “I don’t think there’s anything like it in the world.”

If you go

What: Long Beach Pride Presents: “Rhythm of the Rainbow Ball”

When: 6 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Long Beach Pride Festival main stage, 386 East Shoreline Drive.

Cost: Free for those with tickets to the festival:

Information: Tickets for the 41st annual Pride Festival, which will take place Saturday and Sunday, can be purchased on Eventbrite or at longbeachpride.com/festival.



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