Sierra Mizrahi, AKA James, got her second name in the ballroom scene amid drag queens, men dressed like moms and club girls, and artists of the vogueing sort. "I knew that I wanted to be in women's clothing. I knew that I wanted to do drag," Mizrahi says. Slight and dark-skinned, Mizrahi is smart and confident, with an easy, soft laugh. Her phone is ringing off the hook, and she answers once to speak in Creole.
Although she's been in the ballroom scene for nine years, tonight is her first time planning and throwing a ball solo. "An Afrikan Affair" is taking over the Hollywood Jaycees Hall with what Mizrahi calls "an alternative fashion show." Mizrahi, like most others, was introduced to ball culture through the film Paris Is Burning. A month later, while living in Fort Lauderdale, she went to a club and encountered enthusiastic chants. It was her first ball. Though most have to be voted into a "house" and deal with an initiation process, she was immediately inducted into the House of Blahnik.
Vanessa Mizrahi (who used to be Blahnik), a legendary "face diva" and ballroom icon, christened him. "She just thought that I looked like a Sierra. I like it; it fits me! I wouldn't want to be called anything else."
Balls involve both contests in which people compete in categories like Vogue Femme (Soft and Cunt Versus Dramatics) and Pretty Boy Realness, and also dancing. She first competed in Butch Queens in Drag Realness, which means Mizrahi dressed in drag to look just like a lady you'd see walking down the street. "I bring excitement to the floor," she admits. "I'm one of the go-to people in the state of Florida as far as anything ballroom. As far as a female figure, I would say I'm one of the hottest people."
Florida's first Vogue Night took place at Grand Central last weekend. It was packed with ball walkers and spectators. But there are monthly balls around South Florida, and there's even going to be a People's Choice Award next year. Mizrahi says that since August, things have been picking up in the scene, adding, "Florida is moving in the right direction."
She explains about balls, "It's a showcase for doing what you can't in real life because you're ostracized." Most of those involved in the ballroom scene are black or Hispanic. Mizrahi emphasizes it's a subculture, and though most aren't aware of it, she thinks everyone should be. They have a significant community in South Florida that includes a handful of former Northeast icons of the scene.
"It's about make-believe." she says; you can dress like you're a big CEO or a fashion model. "It's about fun," she adds, "if everyone comes in with the same mentality. You can come and live out your fantasies and live out your dreams."
Mizrahi started planning "An Afrikan Affair" as Face 2 Face with a friend who later dropped out. "We wanted to go back to the motherland," she says. "It should be one of the best balls Florida has ever had." She emphasized the "should," worried that things might fall through and that people might not show up. But with a degree in hospitality management from FAU, she's thought of every detail. Decorations are straight from Africa. She's booked hotels for out-of-towners. Every category involves a description that is Africacentric. All American Runway encourages those competing to be inspired by Anansi the Spider. Pretty Boy Realness asks if any will be crowned a modern-day Prince Akeem Joffer.
Significant is the HIV/AIDS awareness element of the night. "I'm doing it for the community. I think that the more community involvement there is, whether it's from this or a local agency, the better it is." Isis Foundation, a local nonprofit, is sponsoring Realness with a Twist, where you act "cunty" and dress like a schoolboy or a business exec, for example. The winner gets $500. She's very clear that "you can't talk about ballroom and not talk about the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It's present." Not all balls do, but Mizrahi made a point of including outreach at "An Afrikan Affair." "We should be doing better," she says, "not just our community" but everyone. And she's making sure to take care of others with this outreach. "That's a big problem in our scene." But the presence of Isis and the Borinquen Clinic helps. They'll be handing out educational materials and condoms.
Gregg Lanvin is coming in from Newark to emcee, and Jubilee Ebony is DJ'ing. Though doors open at 8, the party'll likely begin closer to 10. If you've never been to a ball, "An Afrikan Affair" seems a wonderful jumping-off point to a whole new world of wonder.
"An Afrikan Affair," hosted by Face 2 Face. 8 p.m. Friday, November 15, at Hollywood Jaycees Hall, 2930 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Admission is $30. Visit eventbrite.com.