Local nonprofit Black Pride Colorado is on a mission to amplify Black excellence and uplift Black members of Colorado’s LGBTQ+ community. This weekend, they’re doing that with a celebration of one of their communities: Colorado’s ballroom scene.
Hosted by Black Pride and sponsored by YouthSeen, “Black Fantasy” will bring community members together for a series of special events celebrating ball culture, including a summit, a Sunday brunch and, of course, a ball.
While the event is open and welcoming to everyone, Dr. Tara Jae, co-founder of Black Pride Colorado and Executive Director of YouthSeen, says Black Pride is working to prioritize queer Black folks.
“The biggest thing that I want people to experience is what Black excellence looks like and feels like,” they said. “Us showing up and supporting each other in the ways that we can be seen and heard, and not be adjusted to make other people feel comfortable. This is who we are.”
For those not familiar with ballroom, it’s an underground community activity that brings together LGBTQ+ Black and brown youths at “balls,” where participants dress for and “walk” in themed categories, competing for trophies and prizes while commenting on popular culture by embodying different styles and attitudes. Modern ballroom became popular in Harlem in the 1970s, and entered the mainstream when Madonna released her controversial “Vogue” music video, which appropriates some elements of the culture, in the 1990s. The ballroom scene is also explored in the acclaimed Ryan Murphy series Pose, which follows the lives of ballroom participants living in Harlem in the 80s and 90s.
Ballroom initially rose up as a way to address challenges facing the community.
Ballroom participants typically belong to “Houses” led by “mothers” and “fathers,” who’re typically elders or leaders within the community.
“That’s what Black folks have been doing since we got here, is when the systems aren’t set up for us, we’ll set up our own systems and resources so that we can take care of each other,” Jae said. “That’s what community building looks like.”
Houses offer participants alternative families and shelter, as well as a sense of safety and support for people who’ve been historically excluded from or neglected by society.
“It essentially is around to house Black and brown folks who are unhoused and don’t have homes or families,” Jae said. “It keeps people off the streets in the middle of the night and keeps them a space where they are a little bit more protected than being out into the streets and open to the elements, police and everything else that’s happening in the community. ”
Jae says ballroom also offers participants an escape from the real world, and an outlet for self expression.
“You could go out into the world and not have anyone side-eye you, second guess you in whatever way, being able to show up in those categories as your authentic self and show up and show out,” they said.
Jae wants to make it clear that ball culture has been around in Denver for a long time and is still thriving. While this year’s ball is hosted by visiting Kansas City House Alain Mikli, it’ll feature local Houses like Ninja, LeBeija, Flora and Infiniti.
“The ball community has been here, and alive and well,” they said. “Black Pride is here to support and to acknowledge the work that is already happening within the community, and get a bigger spotlight on the talent that we do have in our Black queer community.”
They said this weekend’s events are important in part because that the issues that led the community to create ballroom culture still exist today
“It is 2021, and we’re still having discussions around what it actually means for Black lives to matter. And once Black lives matter, then we can actually have the conversation around dismantling racism, anti blackness, and what that looks like,” Jae said. “And a big part of what Black Pride is really trying to do is, we’re not just going to show up once a year and be like, Hey, this is what we’re doing, and then disappear. We are trying to take up space so that we can access our right to joy every day. And making sure that other folks have the ability to experience that as well. Because Black joy is excellence. It’s Black excellence. That’s what it looks like”
Here’s the full list of weekend events:
Saturday, October 2
The Black Fantasy Summit
Guests can attend free talks and workshops at Rocky Mountain PBS (2101 Arapahoe Street) about ballroom’s history and what healing looks like for members in the community. You can register here. 10am-4pm.
The Black Fantasy Ball
The weekend’s ball will be held at The Studio Loft at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, where Houses will compete in different categories for trophies. General Admission tickets are $25, and tables are $150 or $250 for VIPs. You can buy tickets here. 10 pm-2 am.
Sunday, October 3
Black Fantasy Brunch
Special guest Korea Alain Mikli will join guests for a celebratory brunch at The Triangle Bar (2036 North Broadway). You can register here. 1 pm-3 pm.