Kia Labeija, Young Royal
Published in Accent Magazine
Identity performance and depictions of masculinity and femininity continue to be an enthralling element of ballroom’s music, language and general culture. These mechanisms allow performers to take on different identities. “In the ballroom you’re living that fantasy,” Kia observes. “You are the most fucking beautiful person or you are the most fucking fiercest dancer.”
Music is inextricably linked to the ball scene. Ballroom’s hallmark classics, from Masters at Work’s The Ha Dance to Kevin Aviance’s Cunty, are endlessly sampled and reworked to reflect the mood on the floor. DJ Mike Q is explicit when he describes it: “Ballroom has this sound and it’s like that 90s house sound, it’s just that cunt feeling.” There is a unique element of freeness to the sound, mirroring the brashness of the moves as well as the lives of the competing dancers.
Music heightens the drama by feeding and encouraging aggressive poetic discourse within battles. “There are like iconic and legendary rivalries when it comes to battling in the scene. Of course I have my rivalries too,” Kia conveys coquettishly, with a neat snap, “but I beat all the girls, so…”
Dancers eviscerate their competitors in highly sexually-charged displays of dominance, with enigmatic MCs rhythmically roaring over live DJ sets. Powerful words, such as ‘cunt,’ are part of the palpable sexual empowerment and are called out across halls to denote excellence.
“Ballroom has a very specific language,” says Kia, who naturally peppers her speech with ballroom dialect. It’s an immediate signifier of a person’s affiliation and knowledge of the scene, a form of performance that shows you are part of the inner sanctum. Honed from a lifetime of having to learn to survive, there is a sharp, playful lyricism that defines ball lingo.
Much of ballroom’s dialect is taken from the black mothers, sisters or female icons who first uttered the sayings or inspired their creations. Ball slang has evolved into a refined art of witticisms that, like many of the scene’s qualities, serve to illuminate real world issues. Backhanded compliments and asides act as a verbal defence. Such is the case with the act of ‘reading,’ which Kia defines as “when you come for somebody and you tell them about themselves in a way that they can’t really deny.”