OAKLAND, Calif. -- Each year, the Oakland to All ballroom collective hosts The Hella Hyphy Ball, an event that fosters an inclusive space for the house-ballroom community of the Bay Area.
"It's a free event, so we fundraise all through the year," said Ashlee Banks, the co-founder of Oakland to All. "Come be a part of ballroom culture."
Originating in New York, the Ballroom scene was primarily composed of Black and Latino LGBTQIA+ individuals.
"Ballroom stemmed out of the pageant system, Black queens and Latin queens were discriminated against," said Tremaine Wheaton, of the House of Gucci. Wheaton is the creative, branding and program manager of Oakland to All. "Queens like Crystal LaBeija decided to create something that they could be successful in, where they could thrive."
The Hella Hyphy Ball uplifts Ballroom culture, and through the event, Oakland to All provides a safe atmosphere for LGBTQIA+, POC, and their allies to creatively express themselves through performance.
"I love performing because it gives me the chance to be confident in myself," said performer Herve Leger. Leger is known as one of the legends of the Bay Area Ballroom scene.
"I love expressing myself, I love the freedom," added performer Christopher Milan.
"Next year, I would love to participate," said Carmen Hernandez, founder and CEO of Freddie App. "I would love to be onstage voguing. That's the goal."
The Hella Hyphy Ball features dozens of different categories where participants can display unique looks with an opportunity to win cash prizes for outstanding performances.
"Ballroom kind of has this stigma sometimes as being negative, and it is actually the opposite," said Leger. "There's a lot of positive things in Ballroom. There's a lot of nonprofit involved in Ballroom, a lot of community service."
Through partnerships with local LGBTQIA+ community-based organizations, the event also encourages access to resources and linkage to care.
The upcoming queer community app "Freddie App" set up a table at this year's event to share a new opportunity for social media connection.
"We're focused on bringing queer events and spaces into a new digital platform," explained Hernandez. "It's built by us, for us."
"CALPEP, Bridge HIV, they're some of our regular sponsors, and so we always want to create a space for them to be able to have a table," said Wheaton. "Really this is about the community and the community that we serve is an at-risk community. As much as we can, we want to get the information out there, information about prep, connection to care, etc."
Oakland to All plans to continue cultivating a welcoming space for the LGBTQIA+ community to thrive through its Hella Hyphy Ball and more.
"It's a safe space for everyone to come and do their thing and not feel judged," expressed Banks. "We can feel fab amongst each other, and have legendary statuses, and win trophies, and be celebrated and be praised," said Snookie Lanore, an international Ballroom scene commentator.
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To learn more about Freddie App, go here.