At least once a month the deep underground of a Buenos Aires subculture rips open and out pops liberation, fashion, creativity, and impeccably rehearsed poses. For years the folks at Fiestas Turbo have been creating a space where gender bends, where body types of all kinds are more than accepted, and where the full spectrum of sexuality is not only visible but celebrated. The parties they throw are always inclusive, super queer spaces where you can explore both your masculinity, your femininity, or whatever the fuck it is that makes you, you. Perhaps this isn’t the type of event for “normies” if “normies” aren’t people that believe in freedom of expression, self-exploration, human connection, or challenging one’s self to put together a Neo-Baroque bad bitch costume in this insane economy.
But if those are things you stand by, do yourself a favor this Sunday and get down to Teatro Xirgu (Chacabuco 875) to witness the magic that will be the latest edition of Fiesta Turbo’s efforts, Turbo Ballroom Deluxe. There will be voguers facing off, freestyle dance battles, lip-syncs of the Ru Paul kind, and a whole lot of celebration of anyone who has ever felt left out of the mainstream. We sat down with one of the main players behind this event, Rodrigo Rotpando, to learn more about ballroom culture and why these spaces are so damn worth supporting.
What is Fiesta Turbo all about and how did it get started?
Turbo is a party that I began organizing three years ago, but I’ve been putting on parties in the queer community for 15 years. Everything started with my crazy urge to create a space that encompassed free queer expression with vogue, because it was always something I thought was interesting and a huge form of release, both physically and in the way that it breaks away from the established ideas of masculinity. So, I always thought voguing was fascinating and kept meeting people who were interested in helping. It started as a pilot project, with a small group of people and then began to grow. Over time, it has transformed into what it is now; we are basically a community of a ton of people interested in vogue, with other people that are interested in drag. Turbo is a production company that throws parties and ballrooms.
Ballroom culture is an entire queer subculture that’s been around since the 1930’s, but sort of made its mark in the 80’s. Ballroom refers basically to the location of where all these sorts of runway events/vogue battles occur. How would you describe voguing to a newbie who knows nothing about it?
Voguing is an urban dance that originally submerged out of the subculture of New York City but has since gone global. It’s a dance form, but it’s more than that. It’s a way of releasing an intense, very wonderful side that has to do with femininity. The poses, the glamour, comes from a place of confidence and empowerment. It’s this, but above all, it’s also a way of communicating. In the vogue battles what happens is that two or three people connect with one another. They try to embody the 5 elements of vogue and when they embody these elements they tell the world who they are, with confidence and beauty and their feminine side. They present this intense side of themselves to the outside world.
Turbo is the first ballroom that’s ever happened in the city of Buenos Aires. We’ve taken this culture and incorporated elements and traditions from our own culture and our reality in the local queer scene that we live day to day here in Argentina.
What’s happening this Sunday, August 18th?
On the 18th we are putting on the biggest ballroom we’ve ever organized up until this point in the Xirgu theater in San Telmo. It’s a big challenge for us because up until now we’ve put on these ballrooms once a month for almost a year in La Confitería in Colegiales. We want to celebrate this, so we are putting on a ballroom in a way bigger space, with better lights, better sound, and a bigger budget, but we’re still going to respect the categories that we’ve included since the beginning.
Tell us more about these categories.
There’s Vogue for Beginners, which is people who have been taking a class and are just showing their dances to the public for the first time. Then there’s Vogue Queens who are the ones who have experience battling in the femme vogue battles, which is what we would call the more global style of voguing.
Then there’s Freestyle, which I love. You get to throw out whatever style of music you want and you always get incredible responses from the dancers. There are no rules or steps, and magic moments always occur.
We also have Lip-Sync, which we took from US ballroom culture, but we mix it with more local traditions that are perhaps more dramatic. We choose the songs and then each participant picks one for their performance.
The category Runway also comes from the global ballroom culture. There are two forms, the American and the European, which are two different ways to walk. Ours is much more performance-like and anything can happen. Sometimes it’s grotesque, sometimes it’s like a normal runway walk, but participants always model the outfits they made themselves.
The majority of these events have a theme. Who decides the themes and how?
I pick the “fantasies,” which are the themes of each Fiesta Turbo. These are parties that start at night and go until 7:00 am that are more about dancing, less ballroom. But the ones for the ballroom, we all pick them together as a fixed staff. What we do is sit down, start planting seeds, play around, and see what comes out of it. It would be difficult to tell you that we have a specific formula for choosing each “fantasy,” because each has its own particular story and it’s more a game than anything else. We always try to represent the style of the times and to make something that the people can interpret on a whim that relates to something happening right now.
For example, the last “fantasy” of the party was Marginalized Opulence, and it came to me because it has to do with the interplay of the super glamorous and fashionable aesthetic of vogue, which aside from being very sophisticated and expensive and formal, originally had to do with appropriating the culture of the rich. The marginalized, in this case, us, appropriating the rich. We thought about the slaves in South America and so when we put on the event we tried to transmit this. The game was to pretend to be super rich and lavish, but in reality, it had to do with the conditions of the marginalized and that precariousness. In other words, you don’t have to have a ton of money to play around with lavishness.
This Saturday the theme is Neo-Baroque. Can you tell us a little bit about that choice?
Neo-Baroque had more to do with the aesthetic play. We wanted to play a bit more with something more classically related to occidental culture, to a gallery, something overloaded with aristocratic imagery. The “neo” is the futuristic, free part. I mean it’s 2019 in Buenos Aires, so we don’t want people to lose that.
In the description of your event, something that really stuck out was that you declare it a space for everyone. What does that mean exactly?
When I say it’s a space for everyone what I mean to say is that it’s an open space, one that’s open to different body types, genders, ages. Normally each space has its hidden guidelines and even though it may not be said explicitly in a manifesto or in writing there are certain rules: not to show certain body types, or to not be open to certain ages, to not show certain ways of interacting with one another, like a gay kiss or whatever it may be.
These guidelines condition these spaces, so it’s important to declare that we are all queer. Those who aren’t gay, are trans. If they’re not trans, they’re lesbians. Or if there’s a female producer who is cis, she’s pansexual. In general, our community is always a large part of those who normally dominate the sexual and gender dissidence in society. Now that I’m thinking about it, the word “everyone” sounds kind of negative because saying everyone you could be including people who are racist or fascist, but in this case, I don’t mean that. I just mean it’s a space open to many ways of being.
What do you think is the importance of this sort of “real inclusion” your events always seem to promote?
When we talk about real inclusion, for example in relation to the body, these are topics that we make problematic. In relation to body type, for example, I’m fat, and in general, larger bodies are rejected, or hidden, or people think that these bodies can’t be sexualized, or can’t dance, or can’t be leaders of a movement, or can’t reach high positions in the fashion world. And in thinking about this, we always try to create our teams with people that are on the same page. It’s something that we’ve given a lot of thought to.
This space has to have many different body types even within the staff, the hosts, the DJs, whatever. I mean, obviously, talent is important, but there are so many talented people that are left behind in certain spaces for how they look, for their body type. So we think this is problematic and we try to generate these points of visible integration of fat bodies, in this particular instance, into these spaces.
What are your expectations of the night?
I’m very excited and happy about what’s going to happen this Sunday. The space, Xirgu, is a space that’s going to allow us to provide an even bigger framework for the event. There are so many people from the ballroom community participating that are super talented. We’ve ended up becoming friends and comrades and many of them have been working for over a month on their outfits, on what they are going to do, on their dances. I’m so excited to see what happens. Also, I’m a DJ and I’ve produced various vogue beats that I can’t wait to try out for the first time, so I’m super eager to see what happens.
If you’re not in the scene or haven’t joined this community (yet) how do you find out more about events like these?
Coming out on Sunday would be the best way to get to know the people and see what the scene is like. But if not, like us on Facebook or follow us on Instagram. We post all our events, like last month was our anniversary Ballroom and over 800 people came out. We also have vogue classes and more but all this information is on our social media sites.
18:00 hrs. | Xirgu Espacio Untref| Chacabuco 875 | San Telmo