"Right here, right here, right here!" shouted Symba McQueen, the charismatic organizer and host of The Red Ball—a vogue and ballroom competition in New York City that went down on Wednesday, December 2, the day after World AIDS Day. With Princess Precious of the essential ballroom label and crew QweenBeat as the Master of Ceremonies, the night began as participants sashayed down the catwalk and competed in fierce dance battles.
According to McQueen, the color red was chosen as the evening's theme not just because it's connected to the fight against HIV/AIDS—but because "red stands for energy, passion, and action. It signifies a pioneering spirit, leadership qualities, and promotes ambition." Photographer Luis Nieto Dickens of No Sleep NYCwas on hand to capture the thrilling night of brutal competition, friendly camaraderie, and fabulously creative costumes.
The Red Ball went down at Metropolitan West, a multi-purpose events hall in Hell's Kitchen.
Before the ball began, the participants got ready backstage. Elaborate makeup and DIY costumes are an important part of ball culture.
Before the official competitions began, participants started to warm up on the runway.
Symba McQueen (middle) wasn't just the host and organizer of the evening—he was also the MC, and kept the room's energy up with his rapid-fire commentating.
Once the competitions began, there were several different categories, including hand voguing, fashion catwalk, freestyle, best red outfit for both men and women, and awards for community outreach and service.
"The energy was incredible, like a big family party, everyone embracing one another, amazing and personalities," says THUMP photographer Luis Nieto Dickens.
Health outreach and HIV/AIDS awareness was a crucial part of The Red Ball, which was run in partnership with the NYC Department of Health.
After and in between every section, there was a constant reminder by Symba to practice safe sex and to get tested regularly. On the other side of the room, there were information tables with advice on HIV and STD testing and free condoms.
The ballroom scene is comprised of many different houses, which function as surrogate families for their members and provide them with support both on the runway and off.
Members of the various houses cheered from the sidelines.
Each category was judged by a panel, who awarded each competitor with points to determine a winner.
This participant in the freestyle rapping competition was given the word "hippopotamus" by the judges, and his creative riffing off that theme won him the top prize.
People in the crowd dressed up according to the red theme as well.
The winner of the "Best Dressed Male" category.
AIDS awareness took many forms—including crowns made out of condoms.