Saturday night, Manhattan was set fire for the 22nd year in a row at the legendary House of Latex Ball held in the famous Roseland Ballroom. Brought to you by GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis), this year the organization celebrates their 30th anniversary at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
For those who don't know, the ballroom scene is a subculture of families, known as houses, who compete in categories of fashion, runway, beauty and dance (also known as voguing). Countless celebrities are influenced by ball culture, from Madonna to Lady Gaga. If you see an avant-garde trend in the pop stars of today, it may have started in the ballroom scene.
The legendary House of Latex Ball is one of the must-attend events in New York City. Originally conceived by the late, great Arbert Santana (founder of the House of Latex), the Latex Ball has grown to epic proportions. For an event that was once a function for black and Latino LGBT youth, the Latex Ball -- and ball culture -- now transcends age, race, gender and region (there were participants from Russia, Japan and Finland).
Over 2,000 people packed the Latex Ball for an "Enchanted Forest" theme. Elaborate categories included "pop, dip and spin" in a "pirate effect," women's vogue as Tinkerbell, femme queen (transgender women) face as Sleeping Beauty and many more. Fairy dust, swords and axes are just a few of the props to "hit the floor."
In addition, GMHC and the House of Latex honored legendary transgender women in the ballroom scene who paved the way for the younger generation. A beautiful moment, which included a few originals from the era of the 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning.
On a personal note, I volunteered for GMHC during the late '90s. I was barely out of my teens, but the refuge GMHC gave me, especially the late Arbert Santana, is an unforgettable moment in my life. Although I was never an official "ballroom kid," ball culture taught me how to look confident even if I wasn't, how to perform under the most dramatic of pressures and how to receive criticism. Most importantly, the only person you are in competition with is yourself, it may not be your time snatch grand prize -- even if you deserved it. As the "kids" say, "It's just a ball!"
As I watched the Latex Ball, a function I have rarely missed since 1999, I reflected on the talented people I anticipated seeing every year -- but are no longer with us. I remembered a laugh or a special moment I shared, never thinking it would be the last time I saw them.
I sat with a new group of friends, two of whom who have never been to the Latex Ball, and thought how grateful I was to have a force like GMHC in my life as a youth. Today, there is a new crop of "children," who live in a different time than my generation, an era before drug cocktails, Frank Ocean, Anderson Cooper, or President Barack Obama coming out in support of same-sex marriage. But the journey is still long. To all of the legendary children and the up and coming children, get your life and be safe.
Clay Cane is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and the radio host of Clay Cane Live on WWRL 1600AM.
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