We have the honour to interview Sarah Ninja, based in Bologna, a city located at the crossroads between Milan, Florence and Venice. She is one of the people who joined the Italian ballroom scene from the very beginning. She actually walked her first ever ball in 2014, at Italy’s first ever function. She joined the Iconic House of Ninja in 2017 and has been active ever since. Sarah, has left her mark with her fashion sense and effects during the years. Except ballroom, Sarah has a lot of interests, working mainly in Digital Communications as a Social Media Strategist and Copywriter.
How did you get into ballroom?
“Well, it was very random way… let’s say my journey started when there was no actual scene in Italy.
I accidentally jumped into a Voguing class hosted by my Ballroom Mother, La B Fujiko Ninja and since then I never left. But back then, we’re talking about 2013, we really cannot consider that Italian phase Ballroom Scene yet, because it was at a very embryonic stage. I could say I was part of the development of the Italian Ballroom Scene as a kid from the very beginning and I saw that scene growing with me, and me growing with it.”
What does ballroom mean to you?
“Ouch, difficult one! Ballroom to me means a lot of things. Under an abstract level, it means freedom, creativity and fierceness. From a very tangible point of view, the Ballroom is a safe place to go to escape the rules and norms society has set for marginalized communities.
It means diversity and understanding, and for me, it’s a space where we get to support, celebrate and uplift individuals that “out there” are being harassed, assaulted or given fewer possibilities for being “at the opposite gate” of a white, heteronormative and misogynistic society – starting from Queer individuals and BIPOC.
Living in a strong catholic and patriarchal country like Italy, the Ballroom scene has given me a safe space to tackle the stigmas around body, sexuality and empowerment that women face every day from an early age.”
What is the relationship between fashion and ballroom?
“Fashion and Ballroom are very much connected as looks have always been a very big deal for Ballroom people since the very beginning.
Developing from Drag competitions, Balls have always set a very high standard for outfits, even though, through the decades, the style of the contestants has transformed and evolved as time passed by. As Dorian Corey states in Paris is Burning – back in the days, the main inspirations for queens were Hollywood Glam and Silent Movie Divas, shifting year after year into Television and , my point of view here – the Fashion system per se and the Music industry. As the fashion world takes inspiration from Ballroom and vice versa, in each Ball there’s at least one category for the fashion kids!”
How creative do people get when it comes to their looks in balls?
“It really depends on the size and importance of the Ball in my opinion: the bigger the ball the crazier the looks.
The creativity of the outfits also depends on the theme of the category itself of course, because if the theme is bland it’s more difficult to come up with looks that are really popping.
But if the Ball is set to be a great one, with a diverse and international panel you know the kids are going to put a lot of effort into making people gag!”
We have often seen ballroom fashion influence the mainstream. What is the key in engaging in this process of fashion genesis and originality that ballroom people possess?
“I guess Ballroom people have this inner unconscious commitment to shine because of their background and the socio-political environment they were raised in. When society puts a lot of barriers to your freedom, safety and personal development, the Ballroom becomes a space where you can express yourself at 100%.
For this reason, the greatest Ballroom personalities can turn it and make the audience gag with tricks, outfits and stunts. I guess the fashion world is dazzled by this genuine effortless behaviour and they try to copycat what they see. Also, we must remember that the Fashion industry is always looking for something new and exciting, so taking inspiration from a subculture is for sure a good way (for them) to stand out from their competitors. It’s bad though for the Ballroom community to be exploited when and where big corporations or celebrities take profit from it without giving the due credits.”
Can you name ,briefly comment and explain fashion categories in ballroom? (runway, best dressed, fashion killa, labels, designers delight)
“Runway is a Fashion category that stands on imitating the looks and the attitude of the Fashion models. It’s mainly divided into delivering two different energies: All American Runway when you’re channeling masculine model energy and European Runway when you’re delivering a feminine one.
Best Dressed for me it’s about looks and elegance. I believe this category has to be judged keeping in mind the environment around Galas, Red Carpet, Luxury and Royalty.
Fashion Killa is a category I enjoy watching, and for me, it’s about high-end looking street style. Not meaning sweatpants but looks you’d be amazed to see around the streets during Fashion week: think fashion influencers, Rihanna and the feeling ‘only they can pull out a look like that!’
Labels are all about the MONEY! It’s about luxury brands and you have to prove and tell what designer you’re wearing from head to toe. The main goal is – yes of course – to have a good outfit but at the same time, it has to be EXPENSIVE!
Designer Delight on the other side is a category dedicated to Fashion Designers. The category calls for an amazing outfit realised from scratch – think Project Runway.”
What inspires you to create your looks for balls?
“I studied Creative Direction and worked as a Fashion stylist for a couple of years, and I can tell this experience has changed my approach to creating outfits for the Balls. I start from the theme given for the category and create a mood board to put the pieces of the puzzle together. I love to craft the outfits myself, so it’s always about feasibility and fitting first, then I start to think about how I can make that assignment mine 100%.
Not all the themes given have the same appeal to me, but I try to think of a vast imaginary of possibilities and predict what other contestants will be creating ,so I can walk with a unique outfit. It doesn’t always happen but, most of the time, I get away with this!
Also, I think it’s really important to go further than the actual assignment with thoughts like what kind of personality would be wearing this? What kind of energy do I want to convey?
So it’s not only about the look but also about what surrounds it.”
Do you believe originality and creativity are the main ingredients in the success of ballroom fashion?
For sure, they play a very important part. The Ballroom audience has very high standards when it comes to fashion, so being out of the box is always very rewarding!
Interview by Filippos Vogdanis
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