Kyiv Is Burning. Who said there is no ballroom scene in the post-soviet space?

An underground movement serving unrepresented and repressed marginal communities of Black Americans, Latino, gay and transgender people of Harlem in the early 1960s today may be associated with the world's most talked-about subculture. With "Paris is Burning," a documentary film by Jennie Livingston, and "Vogue" music video by Madonna, the public became introduced to the flamboyance and often trauma surrounding this community. Almost 60 years later, people worldwide continue to nurture the movement's heritage and honor its creators.  

While the mass cultural absorption is sought to damage initial gatherings' authenticity, appropriating their struggles to cater to the money-makers, another side of the coin does exist. On a positive note, Ballroom culture has also given a chance to individuals sharing the same values to be inspired globally, to feel connected, to support each other. 


"Ballroom culture is only for those who respect it" 


Talking about Ukraine and its viewpoint towards LGBTQI+ and heteronormative performance, we may relate to the land more hostile than friendly when it comes to something "unconventional."  Undeniably, the path to complete inclusion of alternative cultural movements and human rights is lengthy and often exhausting. Despite this, Ukrainian youth is mighty motivated to change national prejudices about gender, sexuality, dance, and freedom. Kyiv Voguing Nights is one of the collectives that try to build safe spaces for everyone to self-express.

The interview explores Kyiv's Ballroom culture, its organizers, its glitterati, and the inspiration behind it. 


Introduction to Kyiv Voguing Nights team 


Artemii - his majesty, the father of The House of Hobo. The inspirational mastermind who handles organizational aspects and program 


Katya - the force behind positioning, communication, organizational and technical aspects  


Sasha or Robocat - Ms. DJ and SMM. Creates bomb Vogue beat sets accompanied with visuals but also takes care of social media material 

Photo credits: Kurazh Bazar 


Victor - Mr. DJ but also cultural guru and a keen researcher

Photo credits: Yana Remneva  


Anastasiia - professional dancer and choreographer. Helps out in every aspect of the event organization.

Photo credits: Anna Alekseeva 


In Kyiv, you are a pioneer. How did Kyiv Voguing Nights start? 

Katya: If we talk about this particular format, yes, I can say that we are the onliest who launched such an evening in Ukraine. However, there are collectives from Kharkiv and Odesa who were doing ballroom events in Ukraine before us. In the beginning, circa 2016, our event had a bit of a different structure: it was not a party, but rather a space for dancers to compete with each other.  

Anastasiia: Initially, our event was organized for people practicing Voguing as a dance form. We wanted to create a space for a dancing community outside a studio for so-called "family gatherings." Eventually, we aspired to break the stereotypes and engage more public by delivering something unrestricted and celebratory. Pushing people to feel free, and joyous was one of our objectives. As an outcome, Kyiv Voguing Nights were born.


When you first learned about Voguing/Ballroom culture? How this discovery made you feel? 

Victor: For me, it happened in 2015. When I was younger, I attended ballroom dance classes, but after some time decided to drop out in favor of a more contemporary dance form. In those days, I discovered Voguing videos, and they made me curious. My interest was so intense that I started to research more. Sadly, nobody really gave classes of Voguing at that time, so for me, it was very experimental at the beginning. In 2016, Ulyana Labeija - Ukrainian pioneer of Vogue Dance, moved from Kharkiv to Kyiv, and things advanced in terms of dancing practice. By the way, some people from our team were doing their first ballroom events with her. Having a Voguing teacher in Kyiv felt like a breath of fresh air: I learned a great deal of new information, practiced continuously, and kept researching. 

Artemii: Around 8 years ago, I started to teach "Heels" at MyWay Dance Centre. People repeatedly asked me why I don't teach Vogue Dance, but I did not honestly believe I could do it. Then Lika Stich from The House of Lanvin (Moscow) came to Kyiv and broadened my viewpoint towards Voguing. As for becoming involved in the community, it happened after "Flawless Ball" in Odesa. I recognized that Voguing is much more than just dancing. It incorporated a meaningful part of my life after Archie Burnett (The House of Ninja) visited Ukraine. Adrenaline rushed through my veins when he talked about expressing yourself, being fierce, and in the present moment. Subsequently, Voguing and Ballroom became integral to my life.  


"Everyone who comes to our event has a chance to make a statement about their identity"


You are people from post-soviet countries, where such movements may be unkindly welcomed. Do you feel like you help to push the change in society's perception? Do you encourage people to learn about cultural, societal, and historical aspects of the Ballroom? 

Artemii: I genuinely believe that we inspire people. Naturally, our format is not for everyone. Ballroom culture is only for those who respect it. But what we see happening in Ukraine is that people bear fire in their hearts; they aspire to freedom of expression. Ballroom and Voguing are another mechanism for one's own self-realization and discovery. In my opinion, the culture also teaches us about self-care. We are trying to push all of it into society.  

Katya: Our primary goal is to make people steadily accustomed not only to dance but also to the culture of Ballroom. We realize that education is quintessential, so we give lectures, post informative content on social media, and invite foreign members of the movement. We want to shatter the superficial regard for this culture and familiarize people in Ukraine. I believe it will bear fruit in the future. 

Victor: We have been organizing talks with such influential figures of Ballroom as Felix Milan, Aishah Murray (Spyder Ninja), and Ukrainian pioneer Ulyana Labeija. To our disappointment, we have found that engagement originated mostly from the West rather than Ukraine. We understand that envisioning awareness in people is of great importance. We want our local participants to be conscious and engaged. Kyiv Voguing Nights do not opt for recalibrating the event for the masses. We aspire to attract open-minded and inquisitive people.  

Sasha Robocat: I feel that most people in Ukraine are persuaded by the power of the trend. Following what the crowd prefers is a comfortable option, which naturally complicates the process for us. Take, for instance, techno culture: there are loads of techno evenings in Kyiv. They appear and fade away all the time. Youth sometimes is not involved in exposing themselves to alternative options. Still, I believe that we are doing a great job. And I am super pleased when people learn Vogue Dance and get insights about Ballroom culture after visiting our event.  


Aishah Murray (Spyder Ninja) and Archie Burnett (The House of Ninja). Photo credits:; Bluphotoart



What do you perceive as a challenge to Kyiv Voguing Nights?  

Victor: Cultural appropriation, laziness related to welcoming new information, and mindset are abridging our efforts. Many people pick up isolated pieces like dressing up or flamboyance but neglect the overall cultural picture. 

Katya: The principal challenge is rooted in society's functioning right now. Some people in Ukraine struggle with tolerance and acceptance towards someone "unusual." The lack of accurate information also poses some difficulties. 

Sasha Robocat: Hybrid formats of partying. I have been in Kyiv's clubbing scene for quite a while now, and it is the first time I witness evenings where people are dressed up for the Ballroom but dance to techno rhythms. I see it as a difficulty since we want to promote the movement as a whole. I feel that it is wrong to mix Voguing and Ballroom with other cultural dimensions. Unfortunately, some people continue to channel such a format and create a real cultural appropriation.  


Some members of Ballroom culture from abroad visited you. Tell me a bit more.

Katya: We were honored to have Archie Burnett - the Grandfather of the House of Ninja coming. Archie was judging one of our events - Whoopee Weekend Vogue Dance Festival. His character and wisdom have influenced many of us. Archie Burnett is such a gorgeous and inspirational person that I was hyper moved by his visit.  


Kyiv Voguing Nights
Kyiv Voguing Nights
Kyiv Voguing Nights
Kyiv Voguing Nights
Kyiv Voguing Nights
Kyiv Voguing Nights
Kyiv Voguing Nights
Kyiv Voguing Nights
Kyiv Voguing Nights
Kyiv Voguing Nights
Kyiv Voguing Nights
Kyiv Voguing Nights

Courtesy of Kyiv Voguing Nights. Photographers: Tonya Hobo, Kate Kruassanova, Anastasia Staver


What about your participation in foreign Voguing / Ballroom events? 

Sasha Robocat: Artemii went to Japan to be a judge at one of the balls over there.  

Artemii: The movement abroad is much more developed. It is a pleasure to compete there. I hope the Covid-19 situation will calm down and we will be able to travel abroad again. 


How do you go with the organization process? 

Katya: We have a responsible approach to it and tend to research in advance. Today we have a venue that we regularly use because of a good relationship with the proprietors. We look at the building's infrastructure and, of course, consider the quality/pricing politics. The event is organized 3-4 times per year, and before each, we create a communication strategy on social media. Also, we are not supported by any institution, and funding comes from our personal means.  

Artemii: Initial gathering was divided into 2 parts. During the day, we had masterclasses for people practicing Vogue dance. In the evening, we hosted a party. After about 4-5 events, we have decided to withdraw masterclasses and only leave the party. At our events, you can see typical ballroom categories. Some of them are performance categories - they necessitate dancing skills. However, some of them do not - "runway," "face," "best dressed." Sometimes we like to add old categories that are not common at modern balls. The winner of a category gets free cocktails at the bar.  


Who attends Kyiv Voguing Nights at this point? How many people usually come? 

Victor: We have a considerable concentration of the dancing community, but today the crowd is really diversified - starting from enthusiastic students to IT professionals. 

Katya: We expect from 100 to 300 visitors per event. Several times we had tickets completely sold out.  


"You do not forget the community's values after the party is over"


What are Ballroom and Voguing to you? Lifestyle or performance? 

Katya: It is definitely a lifestyle. You do not forget the community's values after the party is over. Projecting them in real-life situations becomes a sort of activism for you. I want to show people how things could and should be. Kyiv Voguing Nights are, of course, fighting with some human rights issues in Ukraine, and I am delighted that we help to shift society's perspective.  

Victor: From my side, there is so much commitment to the movement - it is a lifestyle. I am always updated on the latest news in the community, having Ballroom 24/7 in my head. You go to the shop to purchase some new outfits and just envision how fabulous it will look while at the Ballroom. Or when you meet with your friends and excitedly discuss the potential improvements or future aspirations for the event.  

Anastasiia: It is both. The moment you appear on the runway, you feel a performance regardless of your dancing abilities. This sentiment sticks to you and allows you to discover unknown fragments of your character. Ballroom and Voguing accelerate your self-exploration. Even though you can not perform Ballroom roles in the real world, you are emotionally connected to them no matter what.  


How to become a member of the Ballroom community? 

Victor: Acknowledging the history behind the movement and possessing the same set of values is enough. If you want to be a "Voguer," I mean a dancer in the community, you should be disciplined and eager to practice the dance. But Ballroom is not limited to only dancing. It is much more than just Voguing. For instance, dancing skills are not required for the face category, best-dressed category, or body category. Everyone who comes to our event has a chance to make a statement about their identity.

Katya: Willingness to accept the peculiarities of others and open-mindedness towards life.


If you are in Kyiv, visiting, or just want to get more information about the event, do not hesitate to reach out to @kyivvoguingnights!

(All visuals used in the article are courtesy of Kyiv Voguing Nights, Anastasia Staver, Kate Kruassanova, Tonya Hobo)