By 11:30 p.m. on February 4, the Kiki Ball had run over its allotted 7:30 – 9:00 p.m. time slot by two and a half hours, but nobody seemed to care. While City Girls and Drake blasted from the speakers and Ballroom queen Delicious Gucci purred into the microphone, the ball felt like it could have lasted another three hours.
If it did, I would have stayed.
The Kiki Ball was this semester’s iteration of the ever-popular AC Drip ball, hosted by Albion College Drip and a slew of other campus organizations. This time it centered around the theme of ballroom culture, something that, before going, I was unfamiliar with entirely.
Dior Love, Chicago senior and vice president of AC Drip, spoke at the start of the event, explaining what ballroom culture is all about.
“For those that are unfamiliar with the ballroom scene, it’s an LGBTQ+ culture that originated in NYC, beginning in the late 20s,” Love said. “Ballroom is known for its support, family orientation, its categories and its great sportsmanship.”
Shortly after Love addressed the crowd, he brought on the overwhelmingly high-energy special guest, Delicious Gucci, to emcee the event.
According to Love, Gucci is the “Princess of Chicago.”
She was a contestant and finalist on the HBO Max reality show “Legendary,” where contestants competed in ballroom competitions for a grand prize of $100,000.
Gucci walked into the Kellogg Center, took the microphone and immediately stole the show. She explained what ballroom competition is: Contestants walk the runway, competing against each other in various categories like sneakers, outfit, face, twerk or body. She purred into the microphone while students strutted down the runway.
“Walk the runway! Serve the runway! Eat the runway!” she said through the speakers, loud enough to be heard from every corner of the Kellogg Center.
I was immediately captivated by the concept. It was loud, competitive and sexy. It was high energy. It brought something novel to this campus that, in my two years here, I’ve never felt.
I was at the event with my roommate and best friend, Oxford sophomore John Valvo. He was wearing clothes he designed and styled and I encouraged him to walk the runway for the best outfit category. After winning a few rounds of the competition, Valvo waltzed for a few seconds down the runway before launching himself into a backflip. The room lit up.
Our mutual best friend, staff photographer and Detroit sophomore Cade Thomas captured the flip on camera. It was a moment of pure joy and exhilaration in a queer environment where the stakes were low and the love was high. For that experience, I am forever thankful.
I will remember that night fondly. The memories I made are the kinds that pop up randomly years later and force an inescapable smile. Things like that are invaluable; that’s what the college experience is all about.
Existing in such a lively queer space, while not identifying as queer myself, was truly a cultural experience for me. I was blown away by how much fun I was having. On a college campus, especially one with a stated commitment to diversity, equity and belonging, events like this are essential. The open existence of ballroom culture on this campus should be celebrated.
Gucci, who has made her career in ballrooms, said when she was in college five years ago, ballroom wasn’t allowed.
“That’s really groundbreaking for you guys to be able to see the community and to be able to see what we do and showcase our talent,” Gucci said. “So to see this, it gets me emotional. It shows me progress, change.”
Love said ballroom culture isn’t just about death-dropping and twerking. It’s about family. Ballroom participants typically belong to houses that serve as alternative families for queer people who “have been denied or rejected by their birth families,” Love said.
Gucci also spoke to that point in an interview following the event.
“To me, having that family and house support is really vital, because some people don’t have it at home,” Gucci said. “I feel like the best thing you can do is support your peers and support the people you love.”
Gucci made sure the entire night was underpinned by that theme of support and love.
Following a rap performance from Muskegon sophomore MarTaven Hardy, who raps under the name YermTeam Paw, Gucci showered him with praise.
“I love seeing student performers, they’re the future,” she said. “It takes nerve to come up here and perform in front of people.”
Despite not actively walking on the runway or dancing with Hardy, I still felt uplifted.
Love later said that was his goal with the event.
“With me being a gay student on campus, I didn’t really think that other cis(gendered) people or heterosexual individuals on campus would attend, but I wanted to make it as open to everybody as much as possible,” Love said.
Events like this don’t just happen because of a pride flag on the quad or pro-LGBTQ+ virtue signaling from the administration. Events like this are built from the ground up, they happen because of people like Dior Love and Delicious Gucci.
Cultural experiences like the Kiki Ball are the result of a decades-long battle for queer visibility. I’m happy that it can exist on my college campus. We should celebrate the fact that we have a safe space on campus for all students to feel comfortable vogueing, death-dropping, backflipping and, yes, even twerking.