#1, Who is ChRZA, what is this magic called Ballroom House music, and WHY aren’t we talking about it?
Crossing our desks this week is a music video submitted by New York bred artist “ChRZA”, a hip hop (gone pop) (gone underground EDM) genre remix conglomerate who’s style and story certainly caught our attention. In the opener for “Walk Away”, she showcases an impressive set of flexibility and skills with a blended House music dance style known as “voguing”, unfamiliar to us and, to our surprise, pretty underreported within EDM news. Her explanation of why, and more about this elusive scene is even more surprising. “What I do is not even 5% of what to expect from others in the field, you’ve got to understand the level of high energy and talent that is Ballroom.” ChRZA admits. She says she acquired her abilities through the consistent practice and competitive participation in “vogue battles” that apparently occur on the regular within the underground Nightlife & Arts scene originating in NYC. To her, voguing is a dance form that’s allowed her to “rediscover and express feelings of self love and sexual empowerment.” Many women have found themselves in agreement with that statement, becoming introduced to the art via fem led dance classes/groups booming in the UK, or through an even more recent boom in Gen Z participation on Tiktok.
In history, voguing has been a part of the LGBTQ+ community since its inception in the 1960’s, and full incorporation by the 80’s, within the Harlem Ballroom Culture scene.
Voguing is an art form focusing on the use of poise and grace, often combined with incredible displays of acrobatic skill and fierce attitude.
One can vaguely recall voguing being made mainstream temporarily during Madonna’s “Vogue” album era and it being quickly returned to it’s underground roots after the 90’s. This is likely due to the inability of the general public at the time to accept the, primarily LGBTQ+ audience that came along with the package that is Ballroom House Music. It wasn’t until the public discourse for Gay rights began resurfacing over the years, that we even have begun to see resurgence of the artform in pop culture, as seen on talent reality TV shows such as “Ru Paul’s Drag Race” 2009, FX’s “POSE” in 2018, HBO MAx’s “Legendary in 2020, and as of recent acclaim, Beyonce’s 2022 Album “Renaissance”. After a deep dive into ChRZA’s submission of her song directed to us here, as well as her accompanied heartfelt message, there are a lot of shocking aspects of Pop Culture that surprisingly come from the little known Ballroom Community. Terminology such as “It’s Giving” “Slay” and “10’s” originate from the judging of vogue and other categorized performance “battles” that occur at specifically Ballroom Club events. Beyond terminology, seeing the work that goes into developing the costumes and coordinated team ensembles for each show is so impressive one wonders how it has not found itself to be a televised American sport likened to Cheerleading or Ms. America Beauty Pageants.
ChRZA’s decision to open the first segment of her Hip Hop Pop infused Music Video submission with a preview of it’s Ballroom Remix by DJ Divoli S’Vere, was a personal one. Featuring skills from veterans, like Grace Jones, who ChRZA says have been dancing for decades under the radar is the only way she could think to “give them their flowers”, a way she hopes adds to the examples for how many more Cisgendered Straight Pop Artists can use their platform to directly showcase the Ballroom community to the general public. “There are legends within Ballroom who lived and died without ever being formally acknowledged outside of LGBT circles, for what they were able to build ” Ballroom is not only LGBTQ+ history, it’s entertainment history, it’s dance history, it’s cultural history, its history, period. Acknowledging Ballroom’s achievements within EDM dance and House music now, cannot erase the ramifications of its suppression in the past but, it can help personally give credit to individuals who influence the currents of mainstream culture today.
ChRZA recently released the music video for her single “Walk Away” featuring solo Hip Hop choreography by celeb choreographer Tia Rivera, as well as the work of multiple genderfluid dancers and queer representatives in the underground New York City Ballroom House Music scene, these are who ChRZA states are her “Kiki House” family. Houses within the Kiki Scene operate as dance crews, improving each other’s skills and contributing to the local cultural space. From floats on Pride parades, hosting events for AIDS charity organizations, and mentoring LGBT youth, ChRZA’s House titled “The Iconic House of Old Navy”, is one of the earliest to be created in New York City and has been operating ever since. Members of her house as well as houses across the country provide a safe place for these performers and House music lovers to assemble in practice spaces, and supportive environments. Being backed by a house in this way means the world when you are a dancer who, as someone of LGBT and/or Black community, is often targeted for violence and discrimination in public. The Kiki scene (A more casual community focused subculture) is also considered the “practice playgrounds” to the main stage that is the competitive Ballroom scene, featured on HBO Max’s “Legendary”. Ballroom itself originated in New York City, and has granted The House of Old Navy it’s “Icon” status as being one of the earliest Kiki houses, still standing over 15 years later after being established by founder “Neko Old Navy”. The house and other members from the Kiki scene were highlighted and celebrated through the opening teaser for the Walk Away Remix and it’s video as a firm message: The time is NOW for inclusivity/representation of Ball Culture into Pop Culture… All of Ball Culture, and it’s full history.
In an unapologetic display of talent and “Pussy Power”, this Walk Away remix (dubbed “Puss Walk” by its creator + Ballroom House DJ Divoli S’Vere), seeks to reclaim authority over the taboo subject matter that is female genitalia. The remix’s inclusion seeks to insure Pop Culture’s recognition of influential members of Ballroom on all levels and for ChRZA to further do her part to spread acceptance of sexual identity, and self expression, beginning with her own reach within Pop audiences spectrums in the music scene.
“Cunts out Blunts out, I’m not for everybody!”
The song is originally written in perspective of a female developing the courage to leave a man, regaining her self esteem in the process but, after witnessing the level of discrimination towards Trans and genderfluid members of the LGBTQ community, ChRZA sought to enforce Walk Away as an inclusive song for all who identify with the expression of feminine sexuality. “I see that there is still a large amount of people who are uncomfortable around gender nonconforming people, especially within the HipHop community, and a lot of them might truly vibe with the message of Walk Away but, I don’t want there to be mixups about me and my audience. I want everywhere I go to be a safe space for the LGBTQ+, first and foremost, period. Someone wise once told me “If you want to make it in music, you have got to be comfortable around the people who are gonna end up being your crowd of fans… If you end up finding them off putting or “not your tribe” in any way then you are gonna fail because somewhere, in some way, along the line you sold out, and you will have to be fake to keep it up. If you come to my show, my House fams are VIP, they are literally my backbone! I am so 100% accepted by my house when I know some other crowds will find me crazy or annoying so, yea you are gonna be surrounded, and it’s going to be an all out encouragement of that lifestyle! You’ve gotta be more than okay with that, you’ve got to LOVE that. Like Cunts out Blunts out, I’m not for everybody!”
ChRZA plans to release the full remix SPRING 2023. Catch the official single on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more streaming platforms. Follow her on Instagram @ChRZAOFFICIAL and www.ChRZA.com