Welcome to Monday night Vogue Knights, where ball culture lives and houses compete for glory, respect and pride.

When I first came to Club Escuelita in Hell’s Kitchen on a bone-chillingly cold December night, the place seemed dead until 2:30am. Then the crowd flooded in and took over the dance floor. The MC roared into a microphone, igniting the competition. For the next 3-4 hours, the club exploded with continuous energy. In this documentary short, Vogue Knights patrons talk realness, community and self-expression, and show off some serious skill and sass.

The weekly basement club event is ran jointly by Luna Kahn of the Legendary House of Kahn and Jack Mizrahi of the Legendary House of Mizrahi. The MC/promoter Jack Mizrahi seems to be loved and respected by all. DJ MikeQ is a world renowned DJ in the electronic world for his “cunt/feminine” sound.

As documented extensively in the 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning, this very particular dance competition culture has very particular rules. There are categories and sub-categories for walks, incorporating the five main elements of vogue — hands, catwalk, duckwalk, floor performance and spins and dips. The judges and the participants communicate in their own language of gestures, ooohs, uh-uhs and “shade.” I was a stranger and an obvious outsider, but I was welcome here.

Vogueing is a gay and transgender art form, and it’s a universal art form. It’s powerful and visceral and you can’t take your eyes off it all.

(Video: Citizen/ANIMALNewYork) 

ANIMAL contributor Citizen is a documentary filmmaker and journalist living in New York.