“LIFE’S TOO SHORT TO BE SHY”
Photography: Prisma Compositional
Video: Paradox Productions
Interview: Paul Hofman
Laughing, she walks into Pride Amsterdam’s office. Amber Vineyard has just landed from Oslo. Over the past few months she is flying criss-cross through Europe to judge, participate in, and share her knowledge at various balls organized by ballroom communities across the continent. Voguing, the famous dance style, is part of the ballroom culture. “There is still a lot of work to do.”
Although Amber felt very honored when she heard in February that she had been elected to Pride 2019 as an ambassador, she was also critical of how to shape her ambassadorship. The community of which it is a part consists mainly of people of color, who often have to deal with racism in the LGBT community, and who previously did not feel represented at Pride. Also the essential contribution of people of color is often forgotten when it comes to Pride history. “I stand for radical inclusiveness.”
Amber is the ‘mother’ of the ‘House of Vineyard’, under which name she organized her first ball in 2013. She founded the house, the first Dutch ballroom house, in 2015. A house is like a chosen family for people from the ballroom community.
What is vogue anyway? “Voguing is a stylized dance form that originated in the black and Latino LGBT scene in New York. It is the dance style that belongs to ballroom culture. Many people know the dance style, but know nothing about the culture that goes with it. Bringing this to the attention is an important part of my ambassadorship.”
“If you want to celebrate the splendor of the balls and voguing, you will also have to involve the communities for whom this culture exists. We cannot forget that the ballroom scene was created by and for black and Latin communities that deal with systematic oppression.”
People think that Madonna invented “vogue” but nothing could be further from the truth. For her it was a phase, for us a lifestyle. Critical: “Madonna came by and picked up some elements from voguing, but she gave nothing back to the voguing community. I don’t hate her, but she just doesn’t come out of the scene.”
For LGBT people, these “houses” were a safe haven, especially for black people and other people of color. And now. There are now fifteen “houses” in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels and Antwerp, among others. The largest ballroom community in Europe is located in Paris. She has become a household name in the ballroom world. Amber: “Because here LGBT people who fall outside the norm in society have a place to be the norm themselves. For example, trans-women of color, who belong to a group worldwide who are confronted with particularly violent oppression, are the superstars of the ballroom scene. Many people in the ballroom scene were not understood by their family and environment and ended up in those houses where their “house-mother” played an exemplary role.”
She says softly that she fled her parental home at a young age. As a child, she always felt “different” than others. Her parents were sad when they saw her “strange” behavior. They didn’t like that counter-mindedness and obstinacy. “I was really out there.” She was bursting with creativity. Her father therefore hated her. To this day, she has no contact with them. “House of Vineyard” shows me what it means to form a family. It is a “safe space” where I can express myself freely and be limitlessly creative, “she says. Her house became a place where everything that Amber loves and cares about, comes together. “Everyone can be themselves and get the space to excel. Looking at the 1980s, she notes that it was then difficult for LGBT people to dress and behave without being judged or, rather, condemned.
It is now a different time, but there is no place in the world where you can be yourself as well as during a ball. Nothing is necessary and everything is allowed. “Freedom and differences are celebrated there. We think we are a freethinking society, but trans people, and especially black trans women, still need to present themselves differently or hide to be accepted. ”
The LGBT community has had to fight hard for its rights. She emphasizes that we are not there yet. That is why it is so important that the balls have remained. These can enjoy huge popularity, but this is certainly not about entertainment. “Ballroom is an environment where art and activism meet. In that sense, Ballroom is a form of protest, of resistance, and they are a radical celebration of our existence and our right to take up space. ”
Pride ambassadeur sinds 2019