It’s 7pm on a chilly winter night in Southwest Sydney. The moon is bright, shining down on the shivering line that snakes from the Casula Powerhouse Museum and into the carpark. Excited attendees crane their heads, anxious over missing a moment of West Ball. It was meant to start two hours ago. The crowd is swelling, and DJs Mirasia and Neesha are pumping the beat—but the stage is empty.
Ballroom runs on its own clock. Like ‘Fiji Time’ or ‘Fem Queen Time’, it’s about two or three time zones behind, and as a result, balls almost never run to schedule. West Ball III is no exception.
All the action is happening backstage. Houses have flown in from across the country and the Tasman Sea to snatch trophies and thousands of dollars in prize money. Meanjin’s House Of Alexander are sweetness personified in powder pink. The OG house of Ballroom Australia, Slé, are sleek and sexy in Matrix-inspired looks of black leather and Bantu knots. Between air kisses and screams of delight at seeing our Kiwi sisters again, everyone is furiously steaming, moisturising and beauty blending their way towards Grand Prize glory.
West Ball is the brainchild of House of Silky Father Xander ‘Xaddy’ Khoury and rapper extraordinaire Jamaica Moana 007—who wore nude ensembles made custom by Naarm designer Wackie Ju. Mother Bhenji Ra of The House of Slé introduced Ballroom culture to Australia in Western Sydney—but Vogue traces its origins to New York as far back as the 1960s. The pioneering black and Latinx trans women of Harlem created Ballroom out of survival and necessity—building community for those who need it most.
Most of Australia’s Ballroom community have either grown up or live in The Area. Jamaica and Xaddy are proud Westies. For them, it was important to celebrate and encourage the culture, talent and self-expression that is unique to The Area. West Ball is now in its third iteration, incorporating vogue workshops, panel discussions and art exhibitions at the Casula and Ultimo Powerhouse Museum sites.
Free of interstate and international border closures, and with international judges flown in for the first time since before the pandemic—everyone in the community was determined to make their mark. The House of Silky have long prided themselves in being the fashion house of Australian Ballroom. West Ball is their Xaddy’s big event, so for their entrance looks, their statement as a family—the only option was to go full fantasy.
‘Selling the fantasy’ is key to the power and fire of Ballroom. Ball categories were created with the unique perspective of their community in mind. Performance categories like ‘Vogue Fem’ stylise modelling poses with cat-like movement, flaunting and celebrating femininity in all its ferocity. You may be pretty and decide to walk ‘Face’, but if you can’t sell it with elegance and regality as if you are Iman herself, you’ll be chopped.
‘Sex Siren’, with its roots in celebrating sex workers, combined elements of body and realness through the lens of desirability. WBIII featured trailblazing butch and trans man tradies who had the audience and judges fanning themselves in what many deemed to be the highlight of the night.
‘Realness’ is all about the inherently queer concept of passing. Will straight people see you walking down the street and know that you’re trans? Is that swish in your hips and lisp on your tongue giving you away?
This category celebrates the power of controlling the perception of yourself. The money you put into surgery to affirm who you are. The body that has endured the relentless trauma of living in a euro-centric and heteronormative society. The hours spent beating your face or lifting in the gym. Surviving and thriving despite it all—to appear so real that you become what society has deemed impossible.
Fashion plays a key role in this metaphysical transformation. What you wear and how you work it on the runway transcends the space itself, pulling everyone into the fantasy and uplifting the community to aim for more of what they deserve.
There were young queers in the audience and watching on live streams who saw people like themselves being feted and celebrated for their individuality. They saw the most beautiful brown angels win the Face category; divine trans and non-binary muses wearing the recently premiered collection from rising Sydney fashion duo Nicol & Ford. They saw a bin chicken strut down the runway like she was the last, most fabulous ibis left at the tip—my personal favourite look of the night. They saw Mother Meeka Alpha Omega, an inspiration in black, casually listing off the labels that adorned her beautiful body: Valentino. Jimmy Choo. Mugler. Stella McCartney. Balenciaga.
The House of Silky is less than five years old. We don't have decades of success and prosperity behind us like the Legendary Meeka, so a dear friend of the house, Miguel Urbina Tan, was enlisted to help style the Silky girls. Each family member transformed into high fashion evolutions of themselves, retaining their individual energy—but Romance Was Born-again; Gucci-fied and glamourous.
The Silky Essence was on grand display; in our different bodies, our transness, our queerness, our cultural diversity, our audacity! Proud isn’t a strong enough word to describe how I felt being surrounded by my beautiful family that night.
West Ball was a triumph of love and joy, so needed after the tumultuous and trying times of the past few years. Western Sydney faced some of the harshest and discriminatory lockdown conditions during the height of the pandemic, and just as we’re emerging to live again, the weight of the world’s problems feel heavier than ever. Through the bitter winter cold and against a global backdrop of despair, our community came together to celebrate strength and self-expression in the path of the legends who came before us—and looked fab doing it.
By: Api Rainima
Photographer: Rocket K Weijers
Fashion: Miguel Urbina Tan
Fashion Assistant: Ewan Bell
We acknowledge the Tharawal people of the Eora Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which this shoot took place.