The Ballroom Scene: An Underground Art Hitting MainStream

vogue-evolution-049348

Over the next several weeks I will be writing a series on  The Ballroom Scene. Wikipedia cheapens the culture by diluting the definition, calling it a “subculture of the LGBT community involving staged competitive, drag fashion performances.” The ballroom scene is not only a new black art, but it comes with a lot more baggage than simply being a drag show. I personally am not a part of the ballroom scene, but any black gay out man across the U.S. has been to a ball or knows someone else who has been. If the gay community had north and south poles, men in the ballroom scene would be on the complete opposite of the spectrum from men that are on the DL. So over the next several weeks, here are the titles of the different aspects I will be writing about.  The Ballroom Scene: An Underground Art Hitting Main Stream…The Downside of a Black Gay Subculture…Family Life…A New Black Art.

An Underground Art Hitting Mainstream

It is something to commend anytime an underground art flows into the main stream. Rap music for example, in the eighties was underground, and now even the parties at University of Chicago mainly play rap music. Slam Poetry/Spoken Word, an art that I am heavily involved in, was underground until HBO featured Def Poetry Jam, and brought the Art into the spotlight. The youth emergence of slam poetry was just recently featured in a HBO documentary earlier this year, called Brave New Voices. (A competition I was in for the last four years.)

But now, we see yet another art attempting to surface. America’s Best Dance Crew, A popular MTV reality show (now in its 4th season in two years) was the avenue for this new black art to be introduced to millions of people around the world. The actual name of the dance is called “Voguing.” However, there is a whole underground community and vouging is only one aspect of it. Dashaun Williams,
Devon Webster
Malechi, Williams
Leiomy, and Maldonado
Jorel Rios had the task of representing all of the ball room scene in the forth season of America’s Best Dance Crew. I think they did pretty well. See a clip of them below.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQBh2cfewoo

Whenever an underground art begins to surfaces there are always good and bad consequences that come. Many people who practice the art get mad because they feel that when something becomes commercialized the art is no longer original and will be tainted (Wikipedia gives a very good example of this), other concerns pertain to the art just being misrepresented in general. But good things can come from commercialization. Things like funding, more welcoming venues, and more participation.

I am excited to see where the “Artistic side” to voguing evolves to, but one must not forget, there is much more to the ball room scene than just a new type of dancing. And that’s when we get into the social issues, the traditional black family complications, and most of all, the drama!

I look forward to going into more depth on the whole ball room scene, and explaining my argument on how it is simultaneously helping and hurting young black gay men across the country.

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Week of September 28, 2009 to October 4, 2009

Campus Magnet standout Nmesoma Okafor wrongly arrested for murder in case of mistaken identity
Mark Lelinwalla, Mitch Abramson and Larry McShane, Daily News,  October 3, 2009

Iowa City Council puts juvenile curfew on hold
Gregg Hennigan, The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), September 30, 2009

Honor student beaten to death: Can Chicago curb youth violence?
Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor, September 28, 2009

Status Ain't Hood

Folks, I’m busy redrafting this chapter, and haven’t really had time to blog.  I should be off injured reserve by next week.  Editing beckons.  So, I’ll keep this quick.

I’m not really concerned about Facebook polls regarding BHO’s life–or the end of it.  And frankly, I hope Chicago isn’t awarded the 2016 Olympics.  I think it’s pretty obvious that Richard II and BHO have more serious issues to address.  While they’re hanging out in Copenhagen selling the City of Big Shoulders to the IOC, Chicago Public Schools students are being beaten to death.  This year, more than 35 of them have been killed.  That’s right.

Here’s my question: When do sickening moments like this stop being described as just another day living in the ‘hood and recast as a national epidemic, a crisis worthy of intelligent conversation and action?

Have at it.  (Some say there’s no such thing as a dumb question.  Well, dumb answers do exist.  And yes, more police/law enforcement is probably a dumb answer.  We should try harder.)

Off to work on a dissertation not even my mother will read.  ‘Til then, think of the world.

Are You Free?

Many people have told me that I have an old soul. This may be true. I tend to retire early for bed, listen to NPR, and have a strong affinity for Motown music. Yesterday, I was listening to Donnie Hathaway’s song “Someday We’ll All Be Free”. The poignant ballad made really think about the concept of freedom. Was I really free in the “Age of Obama”? Has our country reached the apotheosis of equality? In some respects, it can be be argued that we have. It is no longer illegal for interracial couples to wed; women, for the most part, enjoy reproductive freedom; and immigrants are more incorporated in the United States polity than ever before. However, homosexuals are still treated like second-class citizens, policy brutality is still in an issue, and the incarceration rate of young Black and Latino men is too high. Are we really free? Or are we living in a guise of freedom, where high- ranking minorities fail to recognize institutional shortfalls for their own advancement?

District 9 (SPOILER ALERT)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHihFA8q8xI&feature=player_embedded

In August of this year the critically acclaimed sci-fi thriller District 9 debuted, boasting an exotic location, foreign languages, and blacks and whites united against a common threat—Prawns.  The Prawns are aliens whose intergalactic automobile (most likely a Ford) has broken down on the wrong side of town—just above Johannesburg.  Depicted as scary and aggressive, the tall, physically variant, language deprived aliens are nothing like your typical shaky-voiced, thin-skinned, shiny-fingered E.T.

Twenty years later, having been dumped intopredominately black neighborhoods, we find the Prawns ravaged by poverty, segregation, and strung out on cat food.  There you have it—1980’s Harlem.   Mounting tensions between blacks and Prawns finally result in a massive eviction.  24-hours notice!  And surprise, this time it ain’t the colored-folk getting tossed.  Instead, the prawns suffer the same fate of many South Africans who were forcibly removed from their homes in Cape Town’s District 6 during the apartheid era and were relocated to more restrictive, less-integrated areas.

To the movie’s credit, the Ninth Ward, oops, I mean District 9, displays all the major symptoms of poverty and racism (speciesism)—prostitution, drug abuse, weapons dealing, and a powerful-despite-being-physically-handicapped drug lord. Plus, to keep it all in check we have an aggressive state, secret scientific experimentation, corrupt government officials, and an unsuspecting-do-gooder-white-guy with his feeble Negro companion (who is either perpetually confused or suffering from a speech impediment akin to stuttering).  Cliché?  Check!

While many critics have lauded the film’s alien-style apartheid, many Nigerians have protested the sci-fi depiction as racist.  District 9 shows them in typical black form—hyper-sexed, corrupt, voodoo masters, eye-rolling, mid-trance cannibals who eat aliens in an attempt to gain special powers.  In short, they are drug addicts as well.  Racist?  You betcha!  But hey, poverty and racism are f’d up—even as told in allegories.  Always inherent in the depiction of people of color are white conglomerates with the power and resources to both tell and sell stories.  Along the way they are helped by apolitical impoverished people of color who have less important things on their minds.  Besides, so much emphasis is placed on “non-human” activity in the film that little attention is given to the already battered black areas where Prawns were forced to live in the first place.  Albeit, there are no blatant propaganda signs declaring “white’s only” but there might as well be—these are clearly defined black areas.  The Prawns aren’t being removed from the Upper West Side—their homes look much more like the South Bronx in the Reagan Era.

From a story-telling standpoint, District 9 seems to have bitten off more than it can chew, however the film does manage to get one thing across—mixed race is the saving grace.  When the film’s human protagonist undergoes a metamorphosis, this half Prawn, half white-man sparks the revolution. 
But why couldn’t the Prawns mix with Nigerians?  I’m sure one of the prostitutes forgot to take her pill.  And what about blacks uniting with the aliens to fight the evil MNU (LAPD, NYPD, CPD) squad?  Of course hyper-sexed, cannibal Nigerians were offensive, but I’m more offended by their complete lack of altruism, their single-mindedness, and by the fact that the only character who seemed to show any empathy was an unsuspecting white man whose accidental mixing sparked a potential revolution.  In the end, we are left with an alien (who’s really a simple white guy), the feeble Negro-turned-political-prisoner, and the widow who upon receiving the flower from her husband-turned-Prawn gave me visions of Mr. and Mrs. Loving.  And there you have it folks—the sci-fi anti “one drop rule”, la raza cosmica sans black folk.  That’s the real racism.

Yeah Monica,"Just One of those Days . . ."

There are so many interesting things to write about this week. I could write about Oprah trying to rap with the overly sponsored poster child of a good rapper, Jay Z. Or, I could write about the 25th Anniversary of the Cosby Show and how I can’t stand the grown-up version of Rudy Huxtable, Keshia Knight Pulliam. Or, I could write about the new HIV vaccine that shows hopeful possibilities. Or, I could write about the governmental propaganda behind and moral panic of the Swine Flu H1N1. But, the only things I can think about this Friday morning are my cramps. Yes, I said cramps. And, if you have not guessed by now this post is about women’s menstrual cycles. So if you have a weak stomach stop reading now. Yes, this post is about the monthly visitor. To be honest, I don’t like the phrase monthly visitor because it falsely gives the idea to men and naïve non-pubescent girls that women’s encounters with their cycles will be like entertaining guest in their homes where the guest are polite and charming.

Yeah right. It’s more like a hostile bank robbery where the biology of having children forces your ovaries to produce eggs causing body crippling pain that would make a grown man weep and gnash his teeth against the rock pavement crying out loud, “God, why hast thou forsaken meeeeeee to bleeeeed!” Humph, I am convinced that if men could experience only a small measure of what we endure until we reach the blessed promised land of menopause they would know without a doubt that we are the stronger sex. And of course we are forced to be strong because the thing about having a period is that I have no choice not to have one without drastically altering the hormones in my body. So, I like every other woman in the world between the ages of 15 and 48 bleed, cramp, and curse the male gods. Yeah, it was definitely a male god who did this to me . . . partially kidding.

And have you noticed that when you’re on your period people seem to be more annoying, more irrigating, and more in your space then they should be? Yes, I’ve noticed. And, I like many who cramp have shared polite if not loving words with these individuals resembling the clip in I’m Gonna Get You Sucka where Cheryl played by the amazing actress, Dawn Lewis, also known as Jaleesha of A Different World tells Damon Wayans to go away because she is cramping badly. (Watch the video it’s hilarious, but it’s also a good representation of how I would respond to an attacker when on my first day of my cycle when the cramps cannot be soothed by Advil, Aleve, and Tylenol combined).

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJzXr0KAxKs

Hey, what can I say Monica had it right when she song:

It’s just one of them days,

When I wanna be all alone.
Its just one of them days,
When I gotta be all alone.
It’s just one of them days,
Don’t take it personal.
I just wanna be all alone,
and you think I treat you wrong.

Don’t take it personal.

I guess if I’m honest having a period is not all bad because historically and even now it gives women space to be by themselves or to be in the midst of other women only because men historically, religiously, and presently are afraid they will catch our “sin,” our “uncleanliness,” and our sometimes “fishy smell” depending on what we have eaten so they leave us alone. Yep, it’s a generalizable fact that men will melt like the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz if they come into contact with a bloody tampon or pad. This is so true that when I was a teen my mother made my sisters and I triple wrap our pads place them in a paper brown bag wrap them in a white plastic bag and take them outside to the “main” garbage can and wait for the trash to be picked up.

Can you imagine having to do all of this six times a day? Okay, clearly I am kidding about waiting for the trash to be picked up, but the point is that y father, grandfather, and any other man in the house had to be completely kept in the dark that we were on our periods. And yes I had three sisters which meant we are tended to bleed around the same time. All in all, having a period allowed women to escape the male gaze on occasion. Of course, this is not to say that some women did not enforce the male gaze in “the red tent,” in “the moon den,” or in “the goddess circle,” but that women had a space where they could talk about women’s work, girl’s initiations, stories of girlhood, and gossip about such and such. A good representation of this is found in one of my favorite books of all time is Anita Diamante’s The Red Tent. The Red Tent tells the story of Dinah who in the Bible was raped. Instead of leaving the story where the Bible leaves it of Dinah being raped, Diamante writes a story from Dinah’s perspective about the love, the complexities, and the hurt of polygamous families and how the menstrual tent becomes a place where Dinah and the other women in her family learn skills, stories, gossip, and family secrets.

Well, perhaps, in another post I will write about the politics of the period, but this post is about the pain, humor, and woman centeredness of having a period. Yep, it is about being able to laugh as one bleeds.

Week of September 21, 2009 to September 27, 2009

Belleville protest, counter-protest, over bus attack
Blythe Bernard, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 27, 2009

Northwestern med school takes different look at preventing violence
Rex W. Huppke, Chicago Tribune, September 23, 2009

Chicago school violence: District rushes to put anti-violence plan in place as gunfire claims new victims
Azam Ahmed, Chicago Tribune, September 22, 2009