Arts

'Feels like an honest form of dance': How voguing helped Twysted find his place as a black gay man

Throughout the decades, voguing has provided a much-needed safe space to trans and gay folk who have been rejected by their own families and communities.

The subculture provides a much-needed safe space for LGBTQ folk rejected by their own families and communities

Twysted (right) battling with partner and fellow voguer James Bailey on set. (CBC Arts)

If you attended Blockorama on Sunday — one of Toronto Pride's biggest parties that celebrates black, Caribbean and African communities — you had the privilege of watching the incredible voguing performance by members of the House of Monroe and House of The Resistance. On the mic commentating the ballroom portion of the evening was one of the biggest names in Canada's ballroom scene: Twysted Miyake-Mugler.

In 2007, Twysted co-founded the House of Monroe — the first official house to bring ballroom, an LGBTQ dancing subculture and scene, to Canada. Over time, as Twysted improved his ballroom game, he was recruited to the House of Mugler by his mentor and Brooklyn-based House father Arturo Mugler, where he remains today.

Like most things queer, influential and amazing, voguing and ball culture was developed by black and Latina transwomen and gay men in Harlem 50 years ago. (Note: Twysted slipped in his interview and makes mention only of gay men but wants to note clearly here ballroom culture was and continues to be led by transwomen.) Members of the ballroom community form "houses" — each one with a house mother and father — who battle each other through dance, drag, runway and other art forms at balls. Judges assess their performance according not just to their moves but their costume, their attitude and how "real" they were at portraying a particular persona (i.e. butch queen, female, realness with a twist, etc.)

Throughout the decades, houses provided a much-needed family and safe space to trans and gay folk who were rejected by their own families and communities. This was especially crucial during the AIDS crisis, where trans, gay and those living in poverty were disproportionately affected by the epidemic.

Learning to dance [...] they would always tell us to make it really macho, really masculine, so I wasn't able to be like a real thug at the end of the day because I'm gay.- Twysted, dancer

As I've gotten to know Twysted, I've come to realize it's this community-building aspect of ballroom that drives his passion for the art form. Testament to this realization is the Toronto Kiki Ballroom Alliance (TKBA), a for-youth-by-youth LGBT community collective founded by Twysted in 2010. The TKBA empowers young queer people by teaching them ballroom arts to build their confidence and provide a social space that is equally as fun as the club scene but a lot safer for their age. "The Kiki ballroom houses," Twysted explains to me, "are like the intramurals of the ballroom scene — they're there to train and support new people and expose them to the art form." Eventually, if they're good enough and want to continue, artists from the Kiki houses get recruited to the real houses and compete in major balls. Kiki houses are also a great place for seasoned performers like Twysted, a member of the Kiki House of Siriano, to sharpen their skills and practice.

Toronto Kiki Ballroom Alliance. (Courtesy)

Though voguing and ball culture have their roots in New York, Twysted mentions that ballroom here has evolved enough locally to have a unique Canadian touch: "The balls here are different from American balls. They're competitive but they have that welcoming Canadian vibe to them — everyone is amazing. The U.S. is more cutthroat because it's been around for so long." He then laughs, "We haven't been tainted yet!"

Watch Twysted's Queer (Self) Portraits video to learn about his story of discovering voguing as a young hip hop dancer from Toronto's Jane and Finch community. You'll also hear an original music track created by Twysted and his partner and fellow voguer James Bailey.

You can catch Twysted, James and the TKBA in Toronto on July 29th at the 4th Kiki Awards Ball. To keep up to date on upcoming balls and other related LGBTQ events, check out Climaxxx Entertainment — an event planning company that delivers premiere social and arts events for the LGBT community and our allies.

Queer (Self) Portraits was born out of director Gabrielle Zilkha's participation in this year's 10X10 Photography Project. 10X10 is an annual art exhibit and book curated by James Fowler and produced each year to mark Pride Month. Each year, ten queer and trans photographers are selected to take portraits of ten queer and trans people whom they wish to celebrate for their contributions to the arts. Watch the full series here!

About the Author

Gabrielle Zilkha is an award-winning director and producer with experience in scripted, documentary and interactive content. She comes from a family of funny neurotics in Montreal and currently resides in Toronto.

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