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Bizarre and Beautiful Photos from New York’s Biggest Vogue Ball

The Latex Ball's 25th anniversary proves that ballroom culture is still thriving if you know where to look.

by Michelle Lhooq
Jul 27 2015, 8:10pm

All photos by Erez Avissar

Vogue is having a moment. Just ask FKA twigs. Or Channing Tatum. Or any of the celebrities who are giving the duck walk their best shot, effectively bringing the dance form back into the mainstream. Of course, this isn't the first time that pop culture has picked up on voguing's fierce moves. Back in the 90s, both Madonna's hit single and the documentary Paris Is Burning turned the spotlight to the catwalks where New York's gay, minority and transgender communities were congregating to escape the drudgery of their everyday lives. In 2015, ballroom, the underground culture that gave birth to voguing, is still thriving if you know where to look.

On Saturday, July 25, the biggest and fiercest ballroom competition of them all—the Latex Ball—celebrated its 25th anniversary at New York's Terminal 5. We sent photographer Erez Avissar to scope the scene, and capture each moment of bizarre, triumphant beauty.

Elite members of the house and ballroom community flew in from around the world to watch, compete and judge the all-star event.

Participants competed in categories like "Team Sex Siren," "Realness," and "Runway."

Most of these costumes are homemade, with painstaking attention paid to every detail.

Crowd participation at these events is key—as members shout their approval to the clanging clashes of ballroom's "Ha" beat.

The Latex Ball was started during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. Its name is not a reference to the BDSM lifestyle, but rather the condoms and health information that were distributed to the ballroom community, which was hit hard by the disease. Today, the Latex Ball remains an important place for education and on-site HIV testing.

Our photographer was allowed to shoot everywhere except the bathrooms—"although we know it's tempting!" the staff joked. "It was funny to see the performers throwing shade and the music cutting out when the pasty white 'reality TV' types tried to walk," Avissar notes.

The Latex Ball is also about honoring the legends and icons of the community. Titles like "The Luna Khan Youth Leader Award" and "The Eric Christian Bizarre Leadership Award" were bestowed on the chosen few.

At the end of the evening, one thing became clear: the Latex Ball is a beautiful world where fantastical expressions of creativity—and a strong sense of community—fly in the face of the systematic oppression and bullshit discrimination that exists outside those theater doors.

Michelle Lhooq is THUMP's Features Editor and go-to vogue enthusiast. Follow her on Twitter.

Erez Avissar is a photographer based in Brooklyn. He is also on Twitter.