Life's a Ball
Tatler Malaysia|July 2021
Asia’s youth takes to the dance floor, where a booming ballroom culture welcomes all those ready to express themselves
Kristy Or

In December, photos of Chinese millennial voguers began to flood the internet. Over-the-top outfits, extravagant runway walks and fabulous balls were taking place in Shanghai and Beijing, something difficult to imagine just two decades before, when the country officially took homosexuality off its list of psychiatric disorders in 2001, or even last year, as the world became ensnared in the grip of a pandemic.

Irina Bashuk, a Ukrainian dancer whose voguing name is Irina Milan, was among the first to import the rich culture of the ballroom scene that was founded in the 1980s by Black and Latino gay men and transgender men and women in New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood all the way to China. As part of the Legendary House of Milan, she began teaching voguing workshops in Shanghai in 2016. But it wasn’t until late 2018 that she established the first house to be originated in mainland China. The Kiki House of Kawakubo is made up of Irina and her students, and consists of a blend of young LGBTQ members and cis women.

For Bashuk, what started as a class for seven eager students has now grown into a blossoming youth sub-culture, with balls in China hosting up to 600 guests at a time. Irina describes voguing as a language. Being a cis woman, she had a hard time finding a genre of dance that allowed her to express both her femininity and sexuality. “I think the same happened with many Chinese women,” she says. “They want to express themselves, in a sexual way and in an elegant way.”

Irina and her students attended the first ball in the region, the De Flower Ball, held in Hong Kong in 2017 and hosted by KenKen Milan, a back-up dancer for acclaimed singer Coco Lee who is also the father of the Kiki House of Marciano Hong Kong chapter. First experiencing the scene during his university days in Taiwan, KenKen fell in love with the culture and travelled to New York to learn more from the source, before returning to his native city to teach and share the art form.

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