Barfly - Balls to the wall
It's a party, it's a pageant, it's an underworld of fabulosity
A slim dude dressed in women's clothing dances his way from the front of the club toward the stage. Wearing gold lamé shorts over pastel-pink tights and a jean skirt on top of all that, he quickly takes the stage. His movements mirror Madonna doing the vogue mixed with traditional African dance and something else I can't begin to describe, but the shit's fierce and it's obvious that this butch queen has come to work.
Welcome to the fabulous underworld of balls, where black gays, lesbians and the transgendered come to battle it out in categories ranging from runway to sex siren. In short, it's Moulin Rouge on steroids: Part beauty pageant. Part dance-party. Part catfight.
My introduction to balls came by accident, a couple of years earlier, while working at the MAC makeup counter in Lenox Square. That's where I noticed them for the first time, coming in loud, colorful droves every weekend to get their lashes done before going out on the town. It's taken me this long to work up the nerve to see what all the fuss is about.
I arrive at Club 708 near the Varsity at 2:30 a.m., only to be told the party doesn't pop until 4. Is that even legal? I imagine boisterous, over-the-top men flaunting themselves all over each other in search of quickie hookups. You know, sex, drugs and alcohol — a debaucherous free-for-all.
When I return, I meet the man presiding over tonight's mini-ball, Andre Mizrahi, the granddaddy of the ball scene in Atlanta. He says he's been throwing these for more than 20 years. But with his blonde mohawk, allover print, peace-sign hoodie and electric-orange vinyl waist bag, he barely looks 20 himself.
Bass-filled techno music pumps as the MC begins to yell into the mic, "I wan-na be a girl! I wan-na be a girl!" The butch queen on stage begins to gracefully flail his arms and legs, showing off to the judges. But here comes his competition, whose outfit is just as striking. When he reaches the stage, the "shabams" begin. It's a lightning-quick, orchestrated move that involves crossing one leg behind another, falling back and hitting the back of your head against the dance floor. Competitors can do it gracefully or not, depending on the desired effect and how hard the beat is bumping. My advice: Don't try it at home unless you're looking for a concussion.
Without warning, the mini-ball switches from PG-13 to rated R when five men, half-naked and baby-oiled down, roll up to the stage. The first is topless with jeans riding low to show off his gray jock strap. He's followed by another guy wearing bright-red Diesel boxers, with something that looks like Fruit by the Foot wrapped around his crotch like a G-string. It's for special "effect" — their term for props used to draw judges' attention. Another comes in black latex coochie-cutters with cut-out holes and a chain dangling over his greased-up shoulder. He pets the chain for effect. The last competitor is a chick — a real chick who happens to be a former exotic dancer — dressed in a black cat suit as she seductively pops, locks and drops it.
Around 6 a.m., the last competition begins. It's the performance round. Boss bitches are going for broke and everyone is pounding the stage, screaming, yelling and pointing their fingers at the floor whenever somebody shabams. The stage is overcome with swinging hair and kicking legs.
By the end, finger snaps, hugs and high-fives are being exchanged all around the club. No drugs. No drunkenness. No booty calls on blast. It feels more like a family reunion than a late-night party. A soul-train line even breaks out at one point. The only recognizable stereotypes are the preconceived ones that snuck in with me. That's when I realize what these balls are all about. It's a world where the participants can be themselves by themselves, free from judgment.
But in a city known for being so gay and so black, I can't help but wonder why I haven't balled out before. Guess I need to work on my under-the-radar gaydar.?
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