Le Grand Ball

By Zane Lelo Meslani  |  August 11, 2019  | 1,748

And the category is… Winter Fantasy! Le Grand Ball is a bi-monthly runway showcase of Johannesburg’s queer creatives who team themselves into competing houses to win prizes for categories and an overall grand prize. This concept might be fairly new in our own nightlife scene, but ballroom culture has been accustomed in the United States, where it started in New York City during the 1980s by the Black and Latinx gay and trans community to create a place to call home in a world that rarely noted for their existence.

Images by Thabo Molaba

This culture extends beyond the extravagant events as most participants in ball culture belong to groups known as “houses” that mimic a family structure and offer similar support. These groups then created ‘house’ systems, which consist of a founding Mother or Father, and have children who also fall under the house and take part in ballroom categories. This underground LGBTQ+ subculture in which people “walk” (i.e., compete) for trophies, prizes, and glory at the balls. This is very important to note, because of the historical legacy black/PoC queer people have given to start a culture that recognised their own struggles and celebrated their beauty and differences through competition in balls. Attendees of these balls can spectate, dance, vogue, and/or walk-in one or more of the numerous categories that are designed to emulate other genders and social classes, while offering a sort of escape from reality.

Images by Thabo Molaba

Le Grand Ball, and much like ballroom culture in South Africa is still in its’ infancy stage, as they’ve hosted their second event since the first official Pump Up Pride event on 25 May 2019, partnering with Palladium and featured houses such as House of Mood, House of Jolburg, House of Tint, The Royals from The Palace, and the category winning House of Diamonds, founded by mother and MC The Original Hunty. The reason why events like these are important, especially in the nightlife climate in South Africa where queer bodies and women are often violated, mistreated and judged in scrutiny, is because they get to centre themselves and celebrate our way of being and taking up space in places where we’ve never belonged.

Images by Thabo Molaba

The event that took place on 3 August gained online momentum within the social media space, allowing people to come up with ideas on how to dress, how to present their looks on the runway and how to snatch trophies. On the night, House of Diamonds owned most of the categories presented such as body and face, with looks being served by House of Sgebengas, House of Quriosity. The R5000 grand prize was presented by Jägermeister, while Nike South Africa Be True collection showcased in a colourful presentation on the night. Events such as Le Grand Ball and Vogue Nights Jozi, which as had a year-long extension within the cultural scene, has become more than an event, but a political statement and changing perceptions of how individuals can express themselves through art, music, and dance. The work that is being done shifts narratives and gives queer bodies a platform to feel safer.

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