Kansas City Ballroom Performer Takes the Stage in This Season of ‘Legendary’

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Image Credit Above: Kansas City’s Father Papi Alain Mikli appears in this season of “Legendary” on HBO Max. (Courtesy | HBO)

The word “ballroom” can be confusing.

For many people, the images that spring up are precise, stylized dances with two people and beautiful dresses. And while that’s true of ballrooms, there’s an emerging underground ballroom scene involving homes with Chosen Mothers, Chosen Fathers, and Chosen Family.

It’s the ballroom celebrated on HBO Max with the “Legendary. As the third season debuts this week, you can see an international house with a very local artist.

Father Papi Alain Mikli – the name of Kansas City’s Keith Irvin ballroom – is unable to discuss many details for season three. But Flatland got a behind-the-scenes look.

Although this ballroom scene began largely with white gay men over a century ago, it evolved in the 1980s into a safe space for black and brown, queer and trans performers. The legendary competition has chosen to go even further this season and face all the challengers.


A “legendary” trailer


From the start of the first season, the House of Ninja was invited even though it was made up of cisgender women. “Legendary Judge Leiomy Maldonado wanted to make it clear that in a world that accepts people for who they are, the ballroom is for everyone.

Papi first heard that his house was being considered for the third season of “Legendary” in the summer of 2021. From an international house of around 50 members, five from New York, Boston, Chicago and Kansas City would form the last “Legendary”. home.

There were interviews, background checks, even a psychological evaluation. House members were first told that they were to be alternates, but then came the news that they were completely let down.

In true Hollywood style, two days later they received a call that a house had fallen and Alain Mikli’s house was heading towards Los Angeles!

“The producers then commented on how shocked we were on the zoom call. We were trying to hear all the details but we were still at the time we had just been cast for ‘Legendary’,” laughs Papi.

They had less than 24 hours to pack everything they would need for up to three months and fly out.

In 2007, when Grandpa was 20, he discovered the ballroom through YouTube clips seen at a friend’s house. A lover of art in all its forms, he was seduced by this abstract dance art form which was unlike anything he had ever seen before and decided he had to give it a try.

The first ball Grandpa walked was at the Tootsie bar in Kansas City a year later. For him, acting has become like a drug.

“If you’re interested and it gets you there, you want to keep trying and keep riding that high,” says Papi.

Even though Grandpa suffered from extreme stage fright when he was younger, the ballroom gave him the confidence to be who he was, unapologetically.

“It taught me to take ownership of who I am and be proud of it,” he says.

The show’s production in Los Angeles was still limited by COVID-19 restrictions, so there were no visits or beach outings for the five who had never been to town. In retrospect, Grandpa considers it a blessing because there were no distractions during rehearsals.

And there were a lot of rehearsals. At the end of a long day in the studio, the team would push all the furniture in one of their hotel rooms against the walls and rehearse for several more hours.

They may not have made it to the beach, but they did make it to New York — or at least to settings that looked like New York.

“What was crazy was standing in places I know I’ve seen on a TV show,” marvels Papi. “And it looks like I’m out on the streets of New York but I’m in a studio in California. I never thought I would be in these spaces. Definitely a surreal experience.


Ballroom in Kansas City


Putting his home and Kansas City in the spotlight that is currently focused on him is a priority for Papi. The Midwest may still be considered coastal “flyover country,” but Kansas City has its share of ballroom performed by the houses of Chanel, Ebony, Ambrosia, and of course Alain Mikli.

And Kansas City balls often feature performers from other cities who come to compete or judge. In 2019, “Pose” star Dominique Jackson and co-creator Michael Roberson served on the judging panel for the Black Hollywood Ball. Arturo Miyake-Mugler was the head judge for the Fire and Ice Ball in 2021. Arturo is the father of House Mugler, which won the second season of “Legendary.”


KC connections

  • Ballroom performer Monique Heart.
  • Prom artist Widow Von'Du.

The ballroom takes a long time for a performer. There are so many categories – runway, reality, vogue, face and many more. Most people don’t understand how much hard work and imagination goes into creating a look and performance.

Another thing everyone should know, according to Papi, is that the ballroom is global and its influence extends from the world of fashion to music and dance.

“I think early years icons would be so proud of how far the ballroom has come and the love and appreciation others have for the art form,” says Papi.

Asked about his favorite part of being on “Legendary,” Grandpa recalls the relationships he made.

“No one really sees the machine behind the camera,” he says. “They really made us feel at home. They were so encouraging and genuine.

And then there were the others in his house. Alain Mikli being an international house, Papi never had the opportunity to meet the people with whom he was going to spend the next few months. But the hours of rehearsal and performance have formed a bond that will last for a long time.

“I got to know them and create art with them,” says Papi. “That was my favorite part.”

It’s no surprise that connecting with family was Grandpa’s favorite part. For him, the family is that ballroom. Period.

The Story of KC’s Ballroom on Flatland

Sandy Woodson is an independent producer and contributor to Flatland.

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