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Western Sydney’s ballroom scene flourishes as Westball creates safe space for queer people of color

Wearing denim miniskirts and black strappy stiletto heels, the performers squat and hop rhythmically down the runway. This is the duck walk, an iconic move in Vogue fem dance culture.

Attendees from across the country flocked to Liverpool, southwest of Sydney, to watch and walk Westball.

There are no waltzes or salsa at this ball. The ball is part of a thriving subculture that has its roots in 1960s Harlem, New York and is best known for incorporating the Vogue and His dance genre.

Decades later, Madonna took inspiration from the scene and made voguing mainstream with her 1980 hit.

Vogue Fem consists of 5 elements: Catwalk, Duckwalk, Spin & Dips, Hand Performance and Floor Performance.()
The ballroom was shaped by the representation of African-American culture seen during the Harlem Renaissance in the early 20th century.()

“I always imagined it (the ballroom) from afar,” says Westball co-founder Xander Cooley.

“What I didn’t realize was that it existed in Australia and it was happening right down in Liverpool where I grew up.”

As Ms. Cooley grew up, she found it difficult to find a safe place where she could connect with other queer people.

“There are a lot of people who think they are queer, but they are not coming out,” Corey said.

“They are trying to keep themselves safe in Western Sydney, which makes it hard to connect.”

Xander Cooley and Jamaica Moana say West Ball is unique in its focus on queer people of color.()

His introduction to the ballroom was through the cult classic film Paris is Burning.

The culture of ballrooms, balls, and house was created by queer people of African American and Latino descent in response to racism in drug pageants.

Modern balls are competitions where participants “walk” in different categories, many referring to the struggles of queer and transgender people.

A ‘walker’ may receive an ‘all over 10 points’ from the judges or be ‘chopped’ (meaning dropout).()

In the reality category, participants are evaluated on their ability to pass straight.

“For a lot of people, it’s a survival tactic,” says Westball co-founder Jamaica Moana.

“When cisgender gay men walk in that category, they look like ‘brothers.’

Jamaica Moana has been a member of House of Thread since she was 16 years old.()

For Moana, performing has always come naturally.

At Campbeltown Performing Arts High School, she met Benji Lar, credited with bringing ballroom dancing to Australia, and joined the Pioneers, an all-queer, colored dance crew.

“It was the first time I felt a sense of belonging outside of school,” says Moana.

With Ra’s help, Moana sneaked into the club to perform.

“I was 16 and I was doing vogue and performing in the opera house while I had my 10th grade English exam in the morning,” Moana said.

chosen family

Cooley and Moana met at a ball in Marrickville, where they came up with the idea to host it in Western Sydney.

What makes West Ball unique is its focus on queer people of color.

Zarif says it’s inspiring to see the safe space Cooley and Moana have opened up for the younger generation.()
Zarif competes in the facial category, which judges participants not only for their natural features, but also for their presence and charisma.()

“It’s your first time in a community and you’re around people with a local language and experience,” says Zarif, 26, from Blacktown.

“We’re all queer, we’re all POC, we’re all from the same world.”

Abdul Sankari said he accidentally posted a snapchat revealing their sexuality while in Lebanon, and when he returned to Australia his mother told him he had no home.

“When I came back, I had to protect myself,” says Mx Sankari.

“But I found another family – the one I chose.”

Abdul Sankari, who identifies as non-binary, grew up in a conservative Lebanese family in Bankstown.()

While in transitional housing, Mx Sankari caseworkers told them about Redfern’s bar, The Bearded Tit, and other strange spaces that Ms. Cooley encountered.

“He welcomed me into the ballroom community with open arms,” says MX Sankari.

“He gave me all the resources I needed to represent the ballroom.”

Mx Sankari describes walking at the first ball as finally feeling accepted.

“That’s the great thing about ballrooms. You can find your own community. And now we can find that in the West.”

Many of the Saturday night ball attendees are vying for the “house” that serves as the chosen family.

Xander Cooley is co-founder of House of Silky, known for its influence on Australian fashion and nightlife.()

Striding down the runway, House of Silky gave the judges a united front.

“You know you want to be silky!” they chant, snapping their fingers and shaking their heads cheekily.

They are playing against House of Alexander in the chant-off division.

In many cases, the home “mother” or “father” provides guidance and protection, but many do not receive it from their biological family.

Tinga Williams had no idea an environment like West Ball was so close.()

For Tinga Williams, the ballroom is the only family she’s ever known.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-06-22/west-ball-ballroom-scene-sydney-voguing-queer-people-colour/102496288 Western Sydney’s ballroom scene flourishes as Westball creates safe space for queer people of color

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