The House of Suarez Vogue Ball is a no-holds-barred explosion of fierce inclusivity, positivity and celebration. Founded by Darren Suarez, the event is a vital fixture of Liverpool’s cultural calendar. Olive experiences the event in all in self-love glory and speaks to the house mother who each year makes it a reality.
“At this vogue ball baby, you belong!”
His lips are painted in pink glitter. His sequin hot pants curve around fish-netted stockings. His feet never settle for a second.
On the runway this evening we see pose, we see grace, we see sex, we see sea creatures and we see ‘clit-pride’. It is a chaos of bondage tape and glitter. It is a rare, pure freedom of expression and artistic explosion.
It is the House of Suarez Vogue Ball, honey. Get into it.
Category is: cultural context.
Let’s rewind to the 1980s. We’re in the states, New York City to be specific and it’s a bloodbath for the LGBTQ+ community. While the majority of the white hetero world preoccupied itself with boring things like the stock market, brown suits and homophobia, queer Black and latino bodies were building something beautiful at the sidelines. Ballroom. A space for queer expression where predominantly trans women and gay men of colour could walk a runway head to toe in “looks” designed to be “served” or “revealed” at the ball.
“Ballroom came from segregation. It comes from a dark place of isolation,” Darren Suarez (founder of House of Suarez and Liverpool’s balls) explains to me, “It’s brutal in its story and its history.” It’s important to honour this before we run away with our “yas kweens” and “slay huns”. Darren adds: “It’s such a beautiful twist how something so creative and beautiful came from [that struggle].”
Ballroom offered a place for the LGBTQ+ community to not only create, share and perform art for one another, but it gave them a place of safety, family and security. In most cases, it gave them a literal roof over their heads where they lived with fellow dancers and walkers of the ball. These groups operated as families, with a “mother” taking care of all the waifs and strays taken under her wings. These families are known as “houses” and at the ball we see these houses compete in different categories to celebrate dance, fashion, music and love.
As a House of Suarez dancer Jack Dyche explains: “A house is so much more than a company, it is your chosen family.” Jack joined the family back in 2016 and tells me, “I have found that I turn to my house to educate and support me with things that my family and friends outside of the [LGBTQ+] community can’t relate to.”
At the balls, house music, disco, drag and of course vogue blossomed. Some of these art styles had already been floating about (vogue itself began roughly back in the 1960s) but they all bloomed at the ball. Voguing in particular rocketed, a dance style created with elements of hip hop, isolations and of course posing, baby.
Fast-forward to today. The second floor of World Museum Liverpool is all a pink glow. People adorned in leather, feathers, sequins and silk decorate the space. Prosecco glasses sparkle in elegant hands and fans flutter over faces. The ball is about to begin.
“I’ve called it Night At The Poseum,” Darren tells me in a café a few weeks prior, “and instead of it being just one theme, each house will be given a different exhibition to work with which will vary the runway and also bring the museum to life.”
Across the course of the night, we see someone hatch from an egg, four women embody lesbian sex on stage, fierce dance battles and a lip sync that could probably save a life (and I am not being dramatic in saying this). We gorge ourselves on death drops and bare skin, all screaming “I LOVE MYSELF” because our host Rikki Beadle-Blair tells us to, and because we mean it.
The environment Darren and his house create is pouring with so much love and inclusivity, from the second I step a white-heeled boot onto their floor, I feel seen. “Our runway is a platform for people to feel like they can be whatever they want to be,” Darren tells me, his grounding energy rolling off him. “One of the things I do believe in is increasing visibility. There are just not enough safe spaces for [people to express themselves and feel seen]. We can see it in Liverpool at the moment with the amount of attacks happening. House of Suarez need to make sure we keep working on how we support people.”
In addition to their aim to create a safe and inclusive space, House of Suarez has created “an ecosystem” of voguers within the city. The ball nurtures new artists to explore new styles, expand their creativity and gives opportunities for fresh collaborations. “The balls are my ultimate favourite time of the year,” Jack says, after his bold and unapologetic performance at the Poseum leave flames in his wake. “Once the theme has been chosen and promoted then the ideas and creativity start flowing. You have your different categories: Fantasy, Sex Siren, Solo, Lip Sync and Choreography. We work hard as a house to make sure the theme runs cohesively through all categories. With collaborations from Costume (Gordon Webber) to make-up and sound, we aim to appeal to all senses.”
The night is glazed with empowerment, with all walks of life welcomed on the runway. “We are working with DaDa [Disability and Deaf Arts organisation] and QTPOC [Queer Trans People of Colour organisation]. We’ve also got Elements of Vogue which is an under 16s platform [who compete in a separate ball],” Darren outlines.
“My house is open to absolutely everyone,” Darren, or “Mama D” as he’s known to his daughters smiles. “I’m the mother of the house, or the father depending on your generation. Whatever people want to call me.”
Darren is not only a house mother, but a commercial dancer and choreographer. In addition to running the ball (which happens three times a year, after Darren brought the event to Liverpool back in 2008) he works alongside and trains dancers for festivals and other arts events throughout the year.
“I learned to vogue in the 90s in Ibiza when it first came over from the States. The club kids were over there, partying, and then that style came over to the UK,” Darren tells me. He speaks eloquently, scooping up handfuls of stories from his well of knowledge as we chat.
“Vogue is a way of life as opposed to a style of dance. It’s an attitude, it’s a platform of presentation. Vogue helped me through escapism when I was younger, running away from home and going through a hard time. Coming onto the gay scene, changing my life and my headspace. I needed that infrastructure. Voguing really helped me to communicate with the world who I was as an adult. It gave me a family, however dysfunctional,” his explanation is punctuated with a laugh.
The crowd inside the museum is wild with people snapping fingers, shimmying to the music and shining with inner beauty. The room tastes like empowerment. A stunning celebration of queer love, bodies and art which nourishes not only my soul but the soul of those surrounding me. At a time when queer expression is threatened in Liverpool, nights like this instil hope for a community spreading only love.
The Night At The Poseum reminds me that the LGBTQ+ family will continue to be what it has always been. Resilient. Powerful. Beautiful. It is a community that deserves so much more than the hostility it has had to face for years. The hostility it is still facing today on our city streets.
Queer expression will never be contained, crushed or cracked. When in the face of hate, queer expression will always push back. It is armed with beauty and free love. LGBTQ+ liberation is simply a freedom of the mind, body and soul, and queerphobia will never suffocate these voices. It’s a light too vibrant to destroy.
My eyes well with tears and my heart expands to those around me as Rikki strides down the runway, he of the sequin hot pants curved around fishnets, proudly dressed as the queen he is and tells us: “You are not too anything at this ball, baby. At this vogue ball you belong here!”
This here is such a beautiful place to belong to, I think I’ll stay for a while longer.
What a time to hold no fear. To boldly be here. What a time to be proud and queer.