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Prince Was an Unlikely Inspiration Behind Generations of Ballroom and Vogue Dancers

Kia LaBeija: "In the way David Bowie was for white kids, Prince was for black kids."

Kia LaBeija is a legendary dancer and artist known for her strong voguing style, stunning portrait photography, and street-elegant dance performance videos. She counts herself among the countless creatives who draw endless inspiration from Prince. News of his passing left her incredibly distraught, and in reaction, she created a video of herself dancing to his song "Darling Nikki" as an homage. Here, Kia tells in her own words how Prince's charisma, sense of authenticity, and "less is more" approach to telling his story profoundly influenced both herself and the ever-evolving culture of ballroom.—Kat Bein


Kia LaBeija (Photo by William Hacker for Accent Magazine)

Something that I like to use in my vogueing practice that Prince always understood is that simplicity is key—that sometimes, less is more. The ballroom scene has been evolving for about 50 years, and right now, what is hot is the "vogue femme" style. Within the vogue femme style, a lot of people have begun to add lots of tricks—very large-scale dips and dramatic elements. But there's a lack of actual voguing because of it.

Voguing comes from posing for Vogue magazine. Whatever movement you're doing, you have to be doing it long enough so that someone can take your photograph—someone can really take a picture of every line.

"Ballroom is all about using movement to tell your story honestly, and that's exactly what Prince did."

My girlfriend Taina and I, we had this idea to do a Prince tribute because we were just a mess when we heard about [his passing]. I had this idea a long time ago when a friend of mine named BlkWyntr took a photograph of me. I was just wearing tights, getting dressed, and my hair was chopped in a bob. I just always loved the aesthetic of the picture, and I wanted to replicate it on film. Not a lot happens in this video, and that's very much on purpose, because what I'd like to see come back into is the simplicity of posing, of being able to captivate without having to do a hundred million moves at the speed of light.

This was just something for us to do for fun: let's just do a video in a white room with a swinging light to "Darling Nikki." Very sexy, but not doing the most, and in that, it's perfect. That's something that we loved about Prince. He's so innovative, and has the ability to captivate you just with his eyes. That was something I'm really interested in playing with within my artistry, within my vogue.


Prince was also very true to himself, and that's important in ballroom, too. In these balls and the houses that we create, we have a place where where we can embrace whoever it is we are. Just because I'm a woman, I don't have to vogue femme. I like to vogue the old way, which is all lines, kung fu. It's not all the sexy drama, even though I love to put that in there, because that's my truth. Ballroom is all about using movement to tell your story honestly, and that's exactly what Prince did.

I saw Prince live in 2011 when I lived in LA. I went twice because I had to. This man was in his 50s, and his live performance was so much better than any young artist I've ever seen. He was singing live, playing multiple instruments, full out doing splits and leaps while dancing— just being 100 percent engaged with the audience and himself. It was unbelievable. In the ballroom scene, when you're walking balls, it's all about this performance. It's about having the quality of an icon. Prince was iconic in his performance and his style, because his is unique and very much his own.

Photo by Eric Johnson, wardrobe by E'KWEL

In the way David Bowie was for white kids, Prince was for black kids. All the kids who don't have access to the underground, or the LGBTQ movement, or something like Paris is Burning—because Prince was such a big artist, these young people could see him on a platform and be like, "it's okay for me to be who I want to be, because look at Prince. He is just completely himself in this way that is very unapologetic, exciting, beautiful and captivating. And I can do that, too."

I am very thankful to have been able to witness Prince's greatness in my lifetime. Thank you, Prince, for being love and being yourself. Because it has really allowed me to be myself, and your music will forever inspire me to take hold of sexiness and not be afraid of it—to shine and have that kind of ability to captivate people. It's timeless, and it's iconic.

As told to Kat Bein

Kia LaBeija is a dancer and artist based in New York City. Check out her website here.

Follow Kat Bein on Twitter