The Show Must Go On
Snookie Lanore (born Lawrence Taylor), 18, chose to name himself after the “Jersey Shore” star for her spunk and fun-loving personality. And with these same personal attributes, Snookie enlivens his own audience at the balls that he hosts. But instead of traditional ballroom events, Snookie’s feature drag runway battles, vogue dance-offs, and beauty contests.
These types of balls aren’t new. They’ve been held by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities of color for almost 50 years to provide a safe, fun, and judgment-free space for self expression, even at times a neutral space for conflict resolution. They’ve also been made popular by several documentaries: Paris Is Burning, a 1990 film, stands out as an example. But those are the major leagues, meant for older followers. Snookie represents the “Kiki” scene—a ballroom subculture that traditionally caters to participants under the age of 18—whose events have recently grown in frequency and popularity, even among older fans from the major leagues.
Generally, these events take place in Manhattan, though at times Snookie will host one across the bridge in Brooklyn, where he grew up and currently resides. Snookie says these events are always held in safe places, and that’s intentional. It’s not just the venue—it’s the neighborhood. Whether it’s sexuality-based bullying coming from outside parties, or whether it’s just general roughhousing, Snookie wants these events to stay far from trouble. For this reason, you’ll typically find these balls popping up in quiet, professional downtown neighborhoods. Snookie says Chinatown ranks as a popular location, but other balls have taken place in TriBeCa, the Lower East Side, and in Chelsea. “We’re smart like that,” he said.
But that’s not to say that fights don’t break out inside venues between ball-goers. Snookie says these things happen, but they get resolved. “They become friends later on,” he said. And that’s the point: though rough moments arise, a supportive community burgeons from resolution and mutual understanding. Beyond the demonstration of expression and talent, these events foster long-lasting friendships between participants, which Snookie considers a positive consequence. “At the end of the day, we all look out for each other,” he said. “We’re all family.”
Here in New York, these Kiki balls generally take place twice monthly, which makes Snookie a very busy teen. Since starting two years ago, Snookie has hosted over 40 of these events, and he sees many more on the horizon. He first got his start when a friend asked him to host a ball that he threw. At first, Snookie said, he didn’t think he could, but then this life-long Church singer found a new way to show his talents. Moreover, he became the life of the party.