Andrew Jankowski

Class was back in session this weekend, at TBA's Late Night Saturday Back to School Kiki Ball, where New York’s Precious Ebony and Portland’s Brandon Harrison summoned spectators and legendary children to watch and walk looks inspired by the theme of "Back to School."

If you’ve missed out on all the entertaining education points provided by FX TV show Pose, the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning, or the omni-influential RuPaul’s Drag Race, vogue balls are creative, competitive spaces led by queer people of color. Ball culture built spaces where dance and fashion are stronger ways of knowing than written word, and ball attendees can find a caring community within an uncaring society. On Saturday, members of Portland and Seattle houses gathered—along with solo performers, newbies, and viewers—to demonstrate versatility and queer ingenuity, walking for a judges panel of expert dancers and artists for fame and cash.

Andrew Jankowski

Many private school uniforms walked the runway. Other trends included posh mean girls, construction safety wear, military silhouettes, glam university blazers, and '90s and Y2K nostalgia. Seattle’s Tracey Wong, Tinashé Monét, and the Legendary Stephan Blahnik joined Portland’s Yüko Flora in judging contestants.

Categories were, to name a few: presentation of the Face, first-time runway walkers, rare shoes, vogue commenting, interpretations of Biology Class Bizarre, and Lunch Lady Realness. Then came the five elements of vogue dancing: hands, catwalk, duckwalk, spins and dips, and floor performance. (The latter element especially encourages close attention.) PICA's mainstage space was packed when the ball started at 11 pm, but as the evening progressed the crowd naturally thinned so most people got a chance to grab a closer view.

Andrew Jankowski

The evening's last few categories had to be rushed to meet TBA's 2 am curfew, but the walkers made due, serving stunning looks and fierce poise. The runway lay open to all, including a person on crutches (with a stiletto boot) and three memorable, actual children who didn’t win their categories, but offered the adults real competition. Ebony, Harrison and the judges educated the competitors and audience in real time, keeping the audience’s energy high and the performers on schedule. The Back to School Kiki Ball proved that, yes, reading is fundamental—for the rich history, the brilliant fashions, and the shade of it all.

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