SHADES, an on-campus organization serving LGBTQ+ students of color, hosted their third annual Vogue Ball on Friday, Nov. 11.
The event was themed around Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” album and was stated in SHADES’s program as “a time to honor the spirit of inclusivity, creativity and empowerment that defines our vibrant community,” with energetic performances and an equally energetic crowd.
The event was a celebration of all things ballroom-drag culture, especially the art of voguing. Ballroom-drag culture was created by William Dorsey Swann, a Black, formerly enslaved man. Swann’s balls in the 1880s included many of the same elements associated with balls and drag culture today, including walking and competing for prizes.
These balls continued for decades, eventually creating voguing. The dance emerged from the Harlem, New York ballroom scene around the 1960s, based off of the poses seen in fashion magazines such as Vogue, evolving into a “highly personalized, free-styling house dance.”
The entire night was emceed by Derek Jorden, resident director of Rafuse Hall, who provided entertaining commentary and introduced the many performers and categories during the event. Jorden introduced the first performer of the night, Ms Vivi Nox, a local drag performer who lip-synced and danced to “Hair, Nails, Hips, Heels” by Todrick Hall.
The first category of the night, Runway/Face Card, followed Nox’s performance. Akunna Njoku, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering, was the first entrant, walking into the Mandela Room wearing a red lace dress and gold circular necklace, prompting a thunderous applause. After showing her face to the judges, professional performer Nuci entered, taking off their hood for the first time and revealing their face before posing for the audience and the judges. “COZY” by Beyoncé played after the two main entrants were done, and any audience member who wanted to was able to walk the category. After some deliberation by the judges who included two audience members, Njoku was chosen as the winner and given a trophy. It wasn’t Njoku’s first time modeling or walking in the show, but it was nonetheless thrilling.
“It was a good feeling,” Njoku said, “I’ve walked a lot of runway shows, but I was looking at the other contestants and I was like, ‘Okay, she ate that, she gobbled me up.’ But I was surprised because I thought Nuci was incredible when I was watching from the window out here.”
A number of performances followed, starting with the Binghamton University Black Dance Repertoire (BDR) dancing to a mix of multiple songs including SZA’s “The Weekend” and “CUFF IT” by Beyoncé. Ending the mix with “Attention” by Todrick Hall, BDR got even more applause and cheers from the audience as they vogued and death dropped to conclude their performance. Next, Joe, a professional performer at the event, lip-synced and performed Doja Cat’s “Wet Vagina,” which included floorwork and voguing.
There was a short intermission, where Jorden asked audience members trivia questions about Beyoncé, such as her birthday and the names of her first five albums. The winners received condoms and advice from Jorden to always “wrap the willy before you get silly.” After a quick outfit change into a black blazer, Nuci was the only person to walk for Femme Queen/Butch Queen, entertaining the audience with voguing and death dropping as the room lit up.
A performance from Major Noire, Binghamton’s black majorette dance team, followed, dancing to a medley of songs, including “HERE COMES THE HURRICANE LEGENDARY KATRINA” by Kevin Jz Prodigy and “Flawless” by Beyoncé. Once again, there were few silent moments in the room with how many people were applauding and cheering for the dancers.
The final category of the night, Lipsync, followed Major Noire, with a number of performers competing for the trophy. Njoku performed “Rules” by Doja Cat and Joe vogued to “America Has a Problem,” ending the song with a death drop that had the audience roaring. The winner of the category was Ayman Habib, a freshman contestant majoring in computer science.
Habib explained how he chose to dance to “ALIEN SUPERSTAR” by Beyoncé because of the meaning it has to him.
“It was kind of the message behind it,” Habib said. “As LGBTQ+ people, we’re special and I wanted to make the audience feel special. I wanted to make myself feel special.”
After the final performance by Nox to “Formation,” many attendees and participants in the Ball lingered and enjoyed the space that had been made in the Mandela Room. The event space included a cardboard cutout of Beyoncé in front of a shell à la “The Birth of Venus” by the painter Sandro Botticelli and multiple prime photo-ops.
When asked about what they hope the attendees and participants of the ball would get out of the event, two winners, Njoku and Habib, shared similar sentiments.
“You know, life is performance art,” Njoku said. “And I think it’s just a fun getaway from doing chemistry all the time. [I hope they come away with] a more secure feeling in queerness, being LGBTQ+, being a part of the Alphabet Mafia. I think it’s just a great space where you can be your best queer self, wear funky makeup, be really creative.”
“For me, this was a way to see that there is a community for you here,” Habib said. “Because when you come to [BU], you don’t really see a lot of LGBTQ+ things, like gatherings. There’s so many people like me, and it was just really heartwarming.”