Two Atlanta-based organizations—the artist-run DJ collective Club Morph and the arts and advocacy organization Southern Fried Queer Pride—have announced an event next month that will combine one of Morph’s signature dance parties with a ball hosted by the legendary houses of Atlanta’s underground ballroom community. Nodding to Atlanta’s fiery history and Jennie Livingston’s 1991 documentary Paris is Burning—which introduced many mainstream audiences to New York’s ball culture and the black and Latinx queer and trans communities involved in it—the event is called ATL is Burning and will be held on November 9 at the Georgia Freight Depot. Red Bull Music, which has developed a significant presence in Atlanta in recent years, approached Morph and SFQP with the idea for an event celebrating Atlanta’s ballroom culture; both organizations work to increase the visibility of black queer and trans artists and communities in the South.
Club Morph, which presented its first dance party in early 2016, began as an effort to create a distinct space for young queer people of color in Atlanta’s nightlife scene. Two years later, the collective continues to host regular events and has garnered praise for its inclusive and impressive lineups, which have brought artists including New York’s LSDXOXO and London’s Manara to Atlanta, as well as Southern performers such as Chattanooga rapper BbyMutha.
In a conversation over the phone, Morph co-founders JSPORT and Leonce told BURNAWAY that their goal for ATL is Burning is to “honor the people who have cultivated the [ballroom] scene in the South over the past twenty years,” including Andre Mizrahi, father of Atlanta’s House of Mizrahi, who is also involved in organizing the event. “We chose to be involved because we want to see this in Atlanta,” Leonce said.
In another conversation with BA, Taylor Alxndr of Southern Fried Queer Pride said, “The ballroom scene has existed in Atlanta for as long as it has other major cities, but not many people know that. Generally New York and L.A. and even Chicago are seen as the go-to places for balls, but there are also balls happening regularly in Dallas, Atlanta, D.C., and Charlotte. The scenes are just very underground.”
Founded in 2015 as a DIY-inspired, alternative pride festival, Southern Fried Queer Pride has hosted community meetings, art exhibitions, variety shows, and, for the past two years, a scripted, all-black drag revue called Weavestock. In addition to its regular annual festival, SFQP is also planning a one-day festival, TRANS PWR Fest, marking the Trans Day of Remembrance on November 17, and pursuing plans to operate a brick-and-mortar space by 2020. In a social media post announcing ATL is Burning, Alxndr wrote that attending three balls shortly after moving to Atlanta was one of their many introductions to the city’s queer community and served, in part, as inspiration for creating Southern Fried Queer Pride. “Now, it all comes full circle!” Alxndr wrote.
For JSPORT and Leonce, the unique appeal of ATL is Burning is its combination of a dance party–a relatively familiar nightlife environment–with a full-fledged ball, which many in the audience may be experiencing for the first time. “Morph is here to invite our allies who have never experienced ballroom culture before,” JSPORT said, “but we’re not watering down the process at all.” For him, the event represents a merging of subsets of Atlanta’s queer communities, bringing together “the club kids and the ballroom kids and the artsy kids.”
“A lot of people may have heard of Pose or My House,” Alxndr said, referring to two recent TV shows centered on ballroom communities, “but this is an opportunity for them to see something authentically, to see the hard work and intention up close. It’s not just entertainment: this culture has built communities, economies, and lifestyles.”
Although it’s presented by Red Bull Music in partnership with Morph and SFQP, organizers stressed that ATL is Burning is being created with the full involvement of the Atlanta ball community, which includes a governing council comprised of the mothers and fathers of the founding houses of the city’s scene. “What we’re seeing in Atlanta is a renaissance of queer nightlife, events, and art owned and operated by black and brown people,” Alyxndr said.
ATL is Burning will be hosted by Precious Ebony and include performances by Leikeli47, MikeQ, Cakes da Killa, Byrell the Great, Leonce, Leiomy Maldonado, Dashaun Wesley and Koppi Mizrahi. According to organizers, they hope to make the ball a regular annual event. Find more information and purchase tickets on the event’s website.