Welcome to the new Spotlight series by TMS, where we highlight businesses and people around Hong Kong making waves. This week, we’re speaking with KenKen, a choreographer, dancer and trailblazer of the vogue scene in Hong Kong.
“One and two and three, now strike a pose for me.”
A voice booms through speakers. A runway forms in the center of the room, and blue strobes of light flash across the scene. Dozens of spectators gather around the runway. Some of these characters are clapping, some are shouting, some are sneering, some click their fingers to the flow of the performers and some follow the chant of the voice from the speaker.
The dancers make their way down the runway. Death drops. Duck walks. Floorwork. Vogueing. Sharp angles. Face-framing. Shade-throwing. Jerking yet flowing movements. The dancers are possessed by the spirits of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and their brothers and sisters of Harlem that started the revolutionary ballroom scene of the early 1960s.
Emerging at the front of the stage is KenKen Elle, clad head to toe in blue fringe. A full-time dancer, KenKen knows exactly what he’s doing, as he silences the crowd with precision and poise. But the silence is fleeting as the crowd feels a collective kinetic excitement expressed in gasps and hand-throwing of their own.
KenKen has taught vogueing for three years and describes himself as a trailblazer in the ballroom scene of Hong Kong. He discovered the scene almost a decade ago while on a trip in Taiwan, and it’s captivated him since. Charmed by the history of ballroom and the freedom of expression, KenKen brought the art with him back to Hong Kong. He promotes ballroom culture and invites everyone to showcase their authenticity through the movement of their bodies.
TMS caught up with KenKen to learn more about the ballroom culture and his own journey, and of course, we had to catch a glimpse of festivities for ourselves in this week’s Spotlight.
Q: Describe yourself in 5 words.
Fashion, charming, sexy, lovable and seductive
Q: When did you fall in love with dancing?
When I got into the dance society at uni, I found my passion for dancing.
Q: What is the history of ballroom and voguing?
Ballroom culture started in Harlem circa 1970, though its roots date back to the mid-19th century. Historically, it was a place for queer Black and brown youths to convene after hours in community centers and other spaces to “walk” – to compete by donning the appropriate dress and attitude – in various categories that reflect and comment on popular culture and the “mainstream” (white, straight, cisgender) society from which they were often excluded.
Many of these kids, left homeless after being kicked out by homophobic or transphobic relatives, formed their own families, known as houses. These houses were named after the head, or “mother” of the house – an elder queer person who was often not much older than their “children.” They all lived and competed as a family to bring glory, in the form of trophies, to their houses, earning the title of “legendary” with enough wins under their meticulously cinched belts.
Q: What is your history with voguing?
I am the trailblazer of the Hong Kong ballroom scene. I have been winning grand prizes all over the world, including in New York and Asian cities. I have been judging, teaching around the globe and organizing the Hong Kong Vogue Ball for over three years.
Q: What is your favorite part about voguing?
Vogue brings me to the ballroom, which leads me to discover my inner self and then express them. That’s my favorite part of voguing. I feel like I am shining when I vogue.
Q: What are your ballroom events like?
My ballroom events are a celebration of expression and self-introduction. People are allowed to show the underworld their soul, their love, almost anything they want in my ballroom event.
Q: What message would you like to bring forth with your ballroom events?
I tend to convey educational ideas via my ballroom events. First off, to show people what vogue looks like. Next, people could find their beautiful side by walking various categories. Thirdly, to teach people what the society out there is hiding from you – to be precise, the notion of gender and the LGBTQ community. For instance, the category, Realness, teaches people the features and behaviors of straight people so that the gay community can pretend that they are straight to protect themselves from the homophobic environment.
Q: Tell us about one of the best moments you’ve had during a ballroom event.
There are several best moments I want to share on this one – every time I see a performance that touches my heart or hits me, the love between ballroom house members and the connection between people in the ballroom.
Q: Describe the LGBTQ+ scene in Hong Kong.
As a member of the LGBTQ community, I would say it’s still developing but definitely becoming stronger and more powerful than it used to be. Compared to the foreign cities I’ve been to, like Taipei and Bangkok, Hong Kong is still a conservative place. Yet, Hong Kong has been doing a lot lately. Events like the HK Lesbian & Gay Film Festival and Gay Games 11 Hong Kong are open for all to promote and celebrate the community. As a gay person, I would love to devote more to helping and encouraging people to be brave in terms of their outfits, for example. But as a five-to-six-year ballroom organizer, [I think the] Hong Kong LGBTQ community is absolutely growing.
Q: How do you think people can be better allies for the LGBTQ+ community?
As long as you are brave enough to stand out for the community and support LGBTQ, you are the best ally.