It’s tempting to introduce ballroom in terms of the TV shows sweeping the Emmys, bringing queer culture to the mainstream in all its competitive glory. More lingo appears in Instagram captions; more voguers become cult icons, and more queens transcend cult status to celebrities your mom might send you newspaper clips about.
The cultural recognition is long overdue, but there’s still a whole world that doesn’t appear on TV screens. The legends have to start somewhere. The community has to gather. On Saturday, September 25 in San Antonio, a new microcosm of Texas ballroom culture emerges.
Once a month, three artists from two houses (think of houses as chosen families that collaborate together.) are holding Vogue Nights in the basement of Texas’ chicest pizza joint, Playland. Anyone is welcome to join who knows how to find it, though chances of stumbling in on a weekend outing are slim. (Just look for the Play Cave and don’t let the name scare you off.) The underground festivities are open to everyone, regardless of whether they’ve walked at balls before, and the more excited the crowd gets, the better.
“If you enjoy competing, I think it’s a good outlet for people who are into this type of creativity,” says one organizer for the event, Antonio Padron of the House of Juicy Couture, better known as Akasha Luxe from the second season of the ballroom competition show Legendary. “It helps build on your character, your performance, your overall creativity. Coming out to ballroom will help you elevate your …” he rethinks the evolution, “just you.”
Padron joins a duo from the House of Lepore, Father Tye and Shayla, in hosting the event, which kicks off its monthly festivities firmly in the “kiki scene” — in other words, it’s just for fun. Eventually, it may go mainstream, becoming an official competition, but for San Antonio’s first kiki night, there is no rush.
“The scene here in Central Texas is still in its early years of development for ballroom,” says Padron. “We’re not quite there yet for mainstream, but eventually it’ll get there.”
Each Vogue Night will start with an LSS introduction (a showcase of “legends, statements, and stars” who are present but not competing), which gives Padron an opportunity to dance before stepping behind the DJ booth to spin. Shayla Lepore, a burlesque showgirl, usually walks the Sex Siren category at mainstream balls, while Father Tye specializes in Realness with a Twist. From there, the competition unfolds in categories. Performance and Runway are Padron’s favorites, but he expects Face will be big, given its popularity in the Austin scene.
He attributes this trend to attention from the hit show Pose, which emphasizes the category, especially drawing attention to a striking main character influentially played by trans actor Indya Moore. Although the show widely spread awareness of ballroom culture, Padron hasn’t noticed any significant change in the community after its rise to prominence. The scene already knows what it is.
The creative overlap in the ballroom community is helping Padron build a new DJ career, with his first EP on the horizon. The new beatmaker pulls inspiration from the late, great ballroom DJ Vjuan Allure, as well as many others making the crisp, stuttering, and ad-lib-packed beats that have come to represent the scene.
“As a performer, I know what performers want to dance to, or [what activates] people in different categories,” says Padron. “Right now, I’m playing a lot of beats that come from ballroom, and they’re mostly produced by other ballroom DJs, some of them icons, some legends. I’m not controlling what happens in the night, but I play a big part in making sure that people have a good time. The people who are coming in to make statements, I want to help them make their moment.”
Padron’s performance on Legendary has made Akasha Luxe a name to look out for, and he hopes the new Vogue Night series leads to greater crossover between Texas ballroom scenes and community partnerships.
“I feel like I want to go back and do it again. It was so fun. It’s also interesting to see how people recognize you on the street. They’re like, ‘Akasha!’ And I’m like …” he pauses again, “that’s hilarious.”
The new Vogue Night series kicks off September 25 ($10) and new dates will be announced monthly. The venue must be accessed through Playland at 400 E. Houston St. There is no dress code — “You can come looking fab. You can come looking banjee. You can come looking however you want!” — and all are welcome to watch.