Born and raised in NY, Kia Labeija is a visual artist whose work is never apart from being a female artist of color born and living with HIV. Voguing is one of her strongest ways to express all that potency. Kia is starring Pillar Point‘s new video, directed by Jacob Krupnick.
The name Labeija is very familiar to whoever is a little bit aware of NY’s ballroom scene. When we knew last week about that video, we were desperate for information about who was that woman who was just LACRANDO around Bogota streets. Kia Labeija spoke to us via e-mail about gender identity, the production of Dove, her artist works and, of course… Vogue!
BH is Voguing: First, you are a professional Voguer and member of the Royal House of Labeija. We want to know how Voguing came into your life, and how was your incursion to the House of Labeija.
Kia Labeija: As a dancer from a young age, I knew of voguing. My first encounter with it was when I was about 17 and I saw Paris is Burning in a social studies class. Danielle Polanco – NYC Mother Ninja – went to the same high school as I did, graduating some years before me. I remember after seeing Paris is Burning seeing Danielle on YouTube and then Javier Ninja. I thought what they were creating was beautiful and exciting, but I never pursued it.
About two years later, I was working at Webster Hall (the biggest night club in New York City) and I met this beautiful drag artist. We became very close at work, as we were the very few people of color working there, and we had many things in common. One day she told me she was in a “house”, and that she wanted me to join her house. I knew about the house system from learning about it years prior and was really into it. As a young brown person born with HIV, I began to meet many others whom acquired the virus. It was the first time since my mothers death of an AIDS related illness, that I felt I was not alone.
I was brought into The House of De La Blanca, where Father Julian De La Blanca trained me in the elements of vogue. He saw that I had a dance background and decided to nurture it by teaching me The Old Way. His teacher was Amy Xtravaganza, a cis gender woman who has been praised as one of the most prominent women in the ballroom scene. He taught me many of the movements she bestowed on him.
After we would have weekly practices, we would venture off into clubland. Before I was in the ballroom scene, I was a club kid. I went out and dressed up and enjoyed drunkin nights voguing in New York’s queer scene. I did this almost every night starting when I was 19. I began to formulate my style by battling in clubs and learning bits and pieces from the legends who came out to serve me. After my house closed, my gay mother who had brought me to De La Blanca told me she had become a Labeija. So I quickly followed her to the house. I’ve been a member since 2011 or 2012. I’ve been voguing since 2009. I made my debut as a Labeija at the 2012 Latex Ball, and have been walking consistently ever since.
BHV: You and Taina Larot went to Colombia to shoot Dove’s video. Were you part of the conception of the video? Were you able to participate?
Kia: When I was asked to participate in the project for Dove I was very excited. I thought it would be interesting to vogue to music that wasn’t ballroom/disco or house. It was challenging in that I had to find places where all the elements could live and translate for people who know vogue.
Taina is actually my girlfriend in real life, and it was amazing for us to play on screen lovers! She was initially brought into the project to style – she hand dipped my entire outfit under her brand E’KW=L, and has done many other pieces with me including what I wore at the 2015 Latex Ball. But when the director heard she was signed on for the project, he asked her if she would play the bird thief. As a professional dancer and visual artist, she was excited that we could create a powerful message by having a female couple in such a beautiful love story. We brought those characters to life, and we made many important decisions pre and post production.
Kia: We are really curious about your style of Voguing. Your moves are very clean, and you mix elements of old way with new way and femme. How would you describe it?
Kia: I get a lot of my inspiration from Janet Jackson. She always danced so sharp and clean. I used to watch her videos over and over as a kid. Even though she can hit hard, she is still fluid and feminine. I like to mix up the styles based on what the music is telling me. The category I started in is woman’s performance, where you have more leniency to blend styles because it’s a “performance” category, not just old way or new way or vogue femme.
Now, I’m the old way down, but when you have to battle other girls whom each do a different style, you have to be ready to battle them in their element as well. So I became used to blending styles on the floor, but I still keep my moves pretty old school when it comes to the other styles. I like the old way soft and cunt style of vogue femme, I don’t really do clicks, I mostly just enjoy the lines and boxes of the new way, and of course in my heart and at my core is pop, dip and spin.
BHV: In the video, did you have a routine, or were you freestylin’?
Kia: Everything in Dove was freestyle. There was no choreography, just improvised moves. If you can really vogue, you can vogue to anything – not thinking about choreography, just about interpreting the music, telling your story, and dancing with your heart. A lot of people can take voguing classes and get the moves down, but many of them can’t actually vogue. Class is meant to teach you the elements, the outline, but YOU have to write the essay, or else you are plagiarizing.
Kia: Voguing is a direct response to the oppression of brown and black queer and trans bodies. This style, has been a way for this community to express themselves and love themselves for almost 5 decades. In the 1980’s, the ballroom community was hit extremely hard by the AIDS epidemic. Many of the legends and Icons of that time are gone. So when we do LSS, when we bring them into the room, when we speak their name, we honor them. This dance has been a savior for a lot of people who needed a space to feel like they were beautiful even if they were living with HIV/AIDS, were kicked out of their homes, or were survivors of extreme forms of abuse because of their sexual or gender identity.
When I do this dance, when I’m out there on that floor, I pour my whole heart into those moves. The things I have been through in this life I leave out there for people to witeness. Today transgender women of color are the biggest group affected by HIV. Many of these trans women find safety in the ballroom, where they can be honored and praised, instead of beaten and bashed. You can see this in their performance.
Main photo: Kia Labeija in Pillar Point’s Dove video