The queens will be twirling
by JOEL BARRETT
Madonna released her infectious “Vogue” 27 years ago, and her music video introduced the world to a dance that involved hands, arms, floorwork, and spins and dips. Both were an instant hit, and suddenly dance floors of gay clubs were full of the now iconic face and body framing dance moves. The song took the nation by storm. However, voguing existed long before the queen of pop pulled on her white gloves.
Voguing first sashayed into existence in the 1960s, the ballroom scene of Harlem. The scene was an LGBTQ subculture in the African-American community where participants would “walk” or compete against one another and be judged on their dance skills (voguing), costume, gender representation (drag), appearance and attitude. Participants were expected to bring “realness.”
The events were commonly known as “balls” and were influenced by hip-hop and house music. These genres had roots in black Gospel music and often involved the same singers and lyrics from a Sunday service that later sang, danced and performed over deep, soulful dance beats.
On Friday, October 13, the house music will be thumping, the queens will be twirling, and the costumes will be fierce at the Get Woke party. In 2017, three men of color put their heads together and created a series of dance parties that pay homage to the ball culture by loosely incorporating elements of house music, runway competitions, drag performances and more.
“The heart of the event was born from a desire to create spaces and energy for people of color who also happen to be LGBTQ,” said David Seymour, who is one of two emcees for the events. “There is a lack of those kinds of spaces in Kansas City. Despite some of the establishments we do have; some are lacking the music, environment, and cultural and social elements of spaces that are historically for LGBTQ people of color.”
Randall Jenson, the originator of the events, is quick to point out that “we are not a ball but we honor that tradition in the energy and music and the competitions. The Ballroom itself is amazing and Get Woke allows people to get a feel for what a ball is like without fully going there.”
Jenson sees the events as a celebratory space where “people of color can show and be themselves. They can be fabulous and fierce and be affirmed for it.”
When booking the entertainers for the parties, he uses the opportunity to showcase local and national LGBTQ artists and performers of color. Past events have featured local performers such as Monique Heart, Tre’Shawn Seymour, Rii Rii, Moltyn Decadence and many others. Moltyn Decadence will be co-emcee with David Seymour for the October party.
Past parties have featured Jade from “RuPaul’s Drag Race – Season One” as well as Monica Beverly Hillz from Season 5. Monica will return to the Get Woke dance floor in October. Attendees will have the opportunity to walk, dance, and strike a pose alongside her and other performers.
Kevin Richardson, better known locally as the popular drag performer Monique Heart, is the third person behind the events. Richardson sees the parties as a chance to “be a part of the grass roots organization of something changing culture. This event rallies everyone in.” He believes the event gives white people an opportunity to learn.
“Ignorance is a divide. Many white people will say ‘Oh, but we love black people!’ but they never actually step into our world,” Kevin said. “So they remain ignorant.”
He views Get Woke as a way of saying, “Come over to my house. Hear my music. Eat my food. Be around my people. Meet my mom and dad, this is how we are, this is what makes me who I am. You know that ‘me’ that you love? This is why.”
The very concept of “wokeness” was created from the black vernacular. The term grew in popularity with the Black Lives Matters movement. It is meant to encourage people of color to be awake, aware, conscious of the injustices and realities of what it means to be a person of color.
“We purposefully didn’t change the hashtag #getwoke to #staywoke because we don’t want to assume people are woke,” Randall explains. “In an era of Trump, post-Pulse massacre, targeted immigrants, anti-Muslim bans, anti-Trans legislation, and violence against people of color, the question is ‘how do we get people woke?’, both people of color as well as white folks.”
He sees the party as a time for like-minded folks to come together and celebrate and uplift people of color.
“If you’re white and you come here, that’s great! You’re welcome, just know this party isn’t about you.” Randall said, “People get that. They’re really down for that kind of concept right now.”
Richardson, who has a background in ministry, uses Get Woke to give and receive love. “Being able to be around people who look like me – I’m black, native American with deep Latino roots, so being at Get Woke gives me the opportunity to say to people like me: ‘let me love you, edify and encourage you’ because often you don’t get that in other environments.”
All organizers feel passionate about the positive energy of these parties. Jenson emphasizes “Get Woke is a no shade zone. No insults whether verbally or nonverbally. No hate.”
As an emcee, Seymour wants everyone to feel welcome. “We don’t harass people who attend. We don’t talk negatively about anybody’s outfit or runway walk,” he said. “The ballroom culture was designed to be a safe space that gave black people the opportunity to be creative and invest their time and energy in embodying these personas they did not normally have access to in real life due to financial, societal, familial and faith limitations. The Ballroom community created that space. At Get Woke, we’re giving birth to just a glimpse of that.”
Richardson encourages people to use this event. “Come home and just be. You don’t need to worry about your outfit. Just come, be loved and have a great time!” he said.
The Friday the 13th, Halloween edition of Get Woke will take place at a private residence in Kansas City. Fierce costumes are encouraged. For details and ticket information visit facebook.com/getwokeqtpoc
Joel Barrett of JoelSpeaksOut.com is an LGBTQ Writer, Speaker, and Gatherer. He is a former conservative Baptist Pastor who shares his colorful, inspiring story of surviving ex-gay therapy with audiences everywhere to encourage living an authentic life not controlled by fear. Watch for the release of his book “Godly, But Gay”