Shanti NNja performed on the runway early Monday morning at the Fantasyland Ball at the Gay 90s nightclub.
Photo by Jeff Wheeler
Neither sleet nor the Grammys could keep the fierce competitors of the Fantasyland Ball away from the Gay 90s Sunday night. One of the top ballroom-culture contests of the year, it drew men from Milwaukee, Detroit and Chicago as well Minneapolis’s own House of Legion, which hosted the event. From best costume to twirling performance to realness, they strutted their considerable stuff with exuberance, sass and athleticism.
It was the latest episode in what has become a revival of the 1980s balls held in New York’s gay nightlife underground, where gay men of color, who struggled with double discrimination in their daily lives, created a world all their own where they could shine and not worry about anybody else’s censure.
The local balls aren’t on a set schedule, as the scene is still relatively young here, less than two years old. Previous events have been held at Patrick’s Cabaret, the Cowles Center and Deseo Soundbar.
The balls mix drag, performance and high fashion. Unlike typical drag shows, they have many categories that can get quite specific, including “European” runway and “realness,” or posing as straight people, from business executives to schoolboys. And everyone’s got an alter ego or two, like William King, an imposing “runway” category contestant whose “house name” is Russiah. With an h, y’all.
Xavier Rucker sported black leggings that showed off every muscle and a translucent-gold winged cape. Rucker, aka Mother Paris Legion, said that the balls are “still mostly underground but more mainstream people are coming to them.” They sometimes allow a few women to compete as well,” but it’s mainly for black and Latino men,” he said.
Watching the virtually Olympian warm-up on the runway, with a crush of fit bodies sashaying, spinning and doing the bend-n-snap like runway acrobats against a backdrop of encouraging signs -- Vogue! Work it Miss Thing! Battle! – was nearly as fun as the show. Shanti NNja seemed a shoe-in for best twirler.
An entrant named Keyon, draped in black feathers and a knotted strand of pearls, was competing in both the “face” and “hands” categories, but wound up winning for his mad Steve Madden spiked heels. He said he drew his inspiration from “Legends. Icons. Statements. Stars. And Snow White and the Huntsman.” Michael Ingram, in shorts with suspenders, a bowtie and a stack of books in a strap vied for the schoolboy prize, but lost to one of the out-of-towners.
The House of Legion (pronounced lee-zhone, a la francaise) amassed several wins, including European runway (Russiah and Mother Paris Legion), All-American runway (Weeda Legion), Vogue performance (Ninja Legion) and the challenging Butch Queen Sex Siren (Deveric Legion).
So what do the judges look for in these highly subjective competitions? It’s hard to say, according to Justin McDuff, one of the more experienced on last night’s panel. “You just have to look the part, and walk the walk.”
Xavier Rucker, Michael Ingram and Marvin Humphries (left to right) all competed in the ball.
Photo by Jeff Wheeler.