A guide to London’s ballroom scene, by voguing sensation Jay Jay Revlon
© Ollie Trenchard
As vogue culture in the capital continues to thrive, scene stalwart Jay Jay Revlon shares his tips on how to get involved.
While ballroom culture stretches back to early 20th century New York, it took off the late '80s as an all-encompassing, underground, LGBTQI+ movement powered by beats, performance and community. At the time, ballroom (also known as vogue culture, named after the highly-stylised form of dance) was an outlet for people living on a knife edge, providing them with the opportunity to become part of a family (house) and reinvent themselves at gala-esque balls. Though its roots are firmly planted in the black and Latin American communities of Harlem, the impact it’s had across the board on fashion, music and popular culture is sizeable – from Madonna’s 1990 chart-topper Vogue, to FKA Twigs and Rihanna walking NY balls in recent years.
Across the Atlantic, Les Child formed the UK’s first vogue house – House of Child – in the late ‘80s, and the ballroom scene here has been bubbling underground since. Nowadays in London, you can learn to vogue at one of the open-to-all dance classes and test out your shapes at a meet-up or ‘kiki’, a hangout or low-key function. But balls – balls are a big deal. Hours of blood, sweat and tears go into perfecting looks, moves and theatrics to create an atmosphere of fantasy and escapism. While healthy rivalry is definitely all part of the show, the thing that binds them together are the elements of vogue, a passion for the culture and its inclusive attitude.
I want my ballroom events to encourage people to come and escape from their problems. There is no judgement – it’s all fun and games
Across the Capital's ballroom scene, you can expect to see members of the iconic House of Revlon, House of Milan, House of Commes de Garçon and House of Prodigy, and can get down to club nights like the ever-popular Let's Have A Kiki – ran by London stalwart and ball host Jay Jay Revlon. For Jay Jay, his ethos is simple: “I want my ballroom events to encourage people to come and escape from their problems. There is no judgement – it’s all fun and games.” Credited as an instrumental force in the capital’s voguing scene, he also has the ballroom collective English Breakfast London to his name, and has hosted vogue workshops in institutions like Tate Britain and the Southbank Centre.
As we catch Jay Jay, he’s preparing the sequel to his sell-out Denim Ball on Sunday November 25 at fabric, alongside promoters Love Child. "The ball is free for people to walk, fabric are providing the space and we are bringing our judges over from the US, Paris and Holland," he says. "Love Child is the after party for the ball – it’s a queer focused party from Josh Caffe and Jacob Husley with DJs Hannah Holland and Wes Baggaley. Love Child are bringing queerness back to fabric!”
So, whether you walk in one of the myriad categories or want to get denim’d up like Christina circa 2002, or you’re just after a bit of ball culture, Jay Jay spills the tea...
Warm up and get to know London’s ball community
"Well, I’m the only ballroom club night in London. I am, I am! I run a community night called Let’s Have A Kiki at the Prince of Peckham with my regular DJ Krystal Lake. Let’s Have A Kiki is all about the ballroom scene connecting as a community as well as providing a platform for new DJs and those new to vogue. We have USB hour at 1am where we invite any DJ to come and bring their sound to the crowd. It’s something we have always done since the beginning and it brings something different. If you’re coming expect to sweat!”
Learn the elements of vogue femme at a dance class
“Vogue femme consists of: duckwalk, catwalk, floor performance, hand performance and dips and spins. Come and learn the basic elements of vogue femme at my community class in Elephant and Castle at 2Inspire studios – every week and open to all.”
The category is… Audience Best Dressed
“If you’re going to come to the ball you should definitely make the effort. Dress up! This doesn’t happen at every ball, but at mine I always have an ‘audience’ category. There is ‘audience runway’ or ‘audience best dressed’. At my first Denim themed ball, a guy who was in the audience made his whole outfit out of denim. It was unreal. He had a hat, a belt, a jacket and trousers. He won.”
Try other club nights
“I only go out when my friends ask me, but I went to Little Gay Brother this year and had a great time. The music was fun and I loved that there were drag queens on stage all night. Some queer spaces can be very white and not very inclusive, but I didn’t feel like that there. It was different.”
Love Child are bringing queerness back to fabric!
One tune we should check out before we go to a ball
"‘Thundakats’ by Vjuan Allure – I play it every time I walk or do a roll call (a call out to people I want to pay homage to). It’s a sample of Thundercats [the TV programme] over a vogue beat. Find it on my Spotify playlist…"
Keep up with Jay Jay Revlon's Let's Have a Kiki parties on their Instagram here.