Ballroom and Kiki are going mainstream

Trenton "Kiki" group shot. Photo by Kadja Manuel

Let’s have a Kiki with Cornelius Buttah

Cornelius Buttah Old Navy
Cornelius Buttah OldNavy

The Underground LGBTQ Ballroom scene started in the late 1960s as a safe space for Black and brown young people. Some 40-50 years later, the ballroom scene is going stronger than ever and becoming more mainstream thanks to hit shows such as FX’s Pose and HBO Max’s Legendary.

Balls are safe spaces for LGBTQ youth. It’s a place to go for STI testing, advocacy, and even to find a “family.”

A subsidiary of the ballroom scene, called the “Kiki” scene, is the less competitive side of the Ballroom. It is more for youth to congregate and have fun. The Kiki scene is just as impactful and essential as the ballroom scene, but it doesn’t receive the same love that the Ballroom gets.

The Kiki scene started as something more so for youth, and now is a category quite similar to Ballroom. ABC Productions’ new show The Kiki Show, sheds light on the kiki scene from all across the country. Trenton’s own Buttah says that he was nervous and not too sure about joining the show. He faced self-doubt. But ultimately, he rose to the occasion and represented Trenton and New Jersey when competing on the show.

Hey, Buttah! What’s up? Long time, no see. It’s been 10 years?

Cornelius “Buttah OldNavy”: Yes. It’s been forever. Hey Friend! I knew that I would be speaking to someone from Out In Jersey, but I wasn’t sure who it was going to be. I’m excited that it’s you.

Yup, it’s me. Haha. So, what’s up? Give me the low down. How did you get involved with the KiKi Show?

CB: For me, I was actually nervous about doing the show itself. Not because it’s on camera, and it’s mainly just because of what I had to do. And the fact that it’s on TV, you know, it’s Ballroom; meaning I’m going to have to do a ball. I’m not a room shaker. But The Kiki Show takes a bunch of us all across America and puts us together. We had an actual ball.

What’s that mean? I’ve never heard the term “room shaker” before.

CB: There are some people that we call room shakers. They come in, all attention is on them, and they “shake the room.” I’m not the best. I’m very much confident in my performance and my craft, but I’m not the best. You have some people that will come in and shake the whole motherf**cking room. They’ll have everyone snapping and clapping. I’m not saying that I can’t, but that’s not what I give every time that I hit the floor. That’s why I had a pause about joining the show. I offered them so many people from the Kiki scene in Jersey and Trenton who could’ve gone in my place.

Group shot of Kiki performers
Group shot of Kiki performers

I told them, if you want somebody from Trenton, you have to get Juice. He’s been holding the scene down long before I got involved. Juice is an LGBTQ entrepreneur who is located in Trenton. Juice is known most for holding balls in Trenton and across the North East.

The producers themselves hit me up and asked me to be on the show. They remembered me from Trenton Pride. I was just outside dancing and laughing—voguing. You know? Some members of my house were actually already on the show, and the producers recognized me from Trenton and said: “I want him on the show.”

They asked if I was interested in being on Season 2 of the show. I still had to audition and be a part of the process. But, it was important to them that Trenton was represented. And that’s how it really came about. It took me a second to say, Yeah, let’s do it because I had a feeling about it.

How important do you think the Kiki scene is for youth looking for a community?

CB: I think it’s crucial. For me, when I joined the ballroom scene back in 2018, I didn’t think of it as, “I’m joining the Kiki scene.” I didn’t actually know what it was. I knew it existed, but I didn’t fully grasp what the term “Kiki” meant. I heard that there was going to be a ball. And I was thinking, “it’s in my hometown. I have to go,” and when I showed up, I realized that it was a Kiki scene ball.

In the Kiki Scene, you don’t have to be someone. You have an event and have everyone come out and support it. The Kiki scene has a lot of support from the icons and the legends. I’ve thrown my own balls here in Trenton, and everyone’s come out in full support. There’s a place for you to be accepted entirely and that can teach you necessary life skills and can set you up for a career. You can win a lot of money winning balls. You could be on vacation and be like, “What are y’all doing? I’m gonna go to this ball and win this coin.”

Kiki performers
Kiki performers

HAHA, I feel you one-hundred percent.

CB: I don’t know where my life would be if it weren’t for Ballroom. People find themselves and find a family because of Ballroom. It gives people that family, and it’s important to have someone to look up to, and Ballroom really does that for the youth, especially the Kiki scene.

Can you speak as to people making a career on it? Would you make a career out of it?

CB: Ballroom is for everybody. There’s a place in Ballroom for everyone. I was told that from the very beginning. Ballroom is not just fashion or just runway. Ballroom is also beautiful, and it appreciates the body and individuality. We have fun with the categories. We make up categories to this day. I made up a category called “best beat Face” where those who want to compete in that category would have to come in full makeup and be done for the Gods. Ballroom is most known for its classic categories such as voguing, runway, face, and sex siren.

What I mean by giving people careers is, when I started that category, it provided makeup artists with a time to shine and an opportunity to showcase their work. Some MUAs and other people literally make costumes and looks for Ballroom, and that’s how they make a living.

What were some of the most significant prizes that you’ve seen?

Live at a Kiki show
Live at a Kiki show

CB: One of the largest prizes that I’ve seen was for the Face category. Rihanna sponsored the prize and came to the ball, and became a judge herself. That prize was $10,000. That was one of the largest prizes that I’ve seen. People make a lot of coins. You could walk Face and win that prize, but then also go walk vogue or walk the runway and win another thousand dollars.

How does one go about finding the scene? If I were new to Trenton and looking for community, how could I go about getting involved with the ballroom scene?

CB: That’s the hard part about living in Trenton. There are not many people and aren’t too many houses to be involved and affiliated with. Sometimes people will ask you to join their house. It didn’t take me long. I walked my first two Trenton balls without a house, and then I was asked to join Juice’s house. The House of Vuitton. I’m now in the legendary house of OldNavy. The Iconic Hall of Fame Legendary House of OldNavy. It’s one of the four original Kiki houses that are still active and still walking balls today.

It’s one of the best decisions for me because I really made a family. I can go just about anywhere and have an OldNavy family member there. I could go to Paris, and there will still be OldNavy family there. We are the international house.

What’s one takeaway that you’d love for people to take away from this interview?

CB: If there’s one thing that I want people to take away from this, it’s that Ballroom gives people a home.

And that’s a wrap! I’m looking forward to seeing you on the big screen.

The Kiki Show: Season 2 will air on the CW, followed by the rest of the season being available on Amazon Prime. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the release date is still pending but can be expected to air this spring.

Instagram @Prince_Buttah

Twitter @kikiballlive

Kiki Show trailer: