Why the Hella Hyphy Ball is more than just a Ball

By Tremaine Wheaton

October 9, 2023, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE
Laic Moschino 007 vogueing at the Hella Hyphy Ball no. 2.
Photo by Randy Lucina
[ID: Laic Moschino 007 vogueing at the Hella Hyphy Ball no. 2. Laic wears a yellow top and pants and arches back, touching the ground with both hands. In the background, there is a crowd of people watching with a bright light shining towards the camera.]

Editor’s Note: Oakland to All is a Spring 2023 CA$H grantee. This article highlights their funded activities and vision.

Oakland to All began in June 2021 as a meeting of the minds. Three ballroom participants wanted to create a safe space for queer youth during the pandemic—at a time when ballroom had begun to wane in the Bay Area. We came together and hosted free, renegade vogue sessions outside at Lake Merritt Pergola. Through the work of Shea 007, Ashlee Basquiat, and myself, and our regular collaboration with venues Public Works and Fluid510, Oakland to All is becoming more than just a safe space for ballroom participants to express their authentic selves. It’s becoming a hub for ballroom experience.

Ballroom is a whole culture. It can’t be summarized just by dance, though expressing one’s self through music and vogue is intrinsic to ballroom. At balls even those who don’t “walk” vogue categories—who don’t compete—vogue on the sidelines, vogue at home with friends, vogue at clubs outside of balls. Those who are a part of the culture have that ingrained in them. We express ourselves through movement significantly more than our words. Even in non-dancing categories like Runway or Face, movement is key.

[Photo by Randy Lucina. ID: SoHo Tisci walking the Runway Category at Hella Hyphy Ball no.2. SoHo wears an all-white ensemble. In the background, onlookers sit and stand under white tents.]

In addition to hosting balls and parties we hold classes for ballroom participants to learn to vogue or to walk Runway. Oakland to All also always tries to give back to the community. We regularly book ballroom participants for paid gigs as they vibe up, like performing on the main stage at San Francisco and Oakland Prides and participating in the annual Gilead Pride event. Furthermore, we offer some free events, like our annual Hella Hyphy Ball held during Oakland Pride weekend at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater.

We always wanted to throw a ball that celebrates the Bay Area as a whole: its culture, its landmarks, the people. One of the most significant cultural movements for the Bay Area was the Hyphy movement.

The Hyphy Era is a moment in time from the late ‘90s to the mid 2000s where the Bay Area was having a sort of Hip Hop renaissance. It bred a new sound, new dance moves like “going dumb,” and opened the world up to artists like E-40 and Mac Dre. Hyphy energy still permeates through Bay Area natives like us, from the slang we use, to the way we dance, and was a key influence in many of us coming of age. Even now, Bay Area music, dances, culture still radiate Hyphy influence.

So, when we decided to move forward with the idea, Hella Hyphy was an obvious choice for our ball’s name. This was a chance to “put on” for the Bay Area, and by that I mean celebrate where we’re from.

This year was our second go-round hosting the Hella Hyphy Ball (September 9th, 2023), made possible by a few sponsors, including the CA$H Dance grant. Part ballroom experience, part educational tool, we also utilize the ball to educate about Bay Area historic moments and people. Our category sheet—which is a flier that ballroom promoters release ahead of a ball so that participants know how to prepare for the respective categories—reads much more like a booklet of fun Bay Area facts than a vogue category sheet.

Both years we’ve kicked off the event with Bay Area trivia and guest Bay Area rappers: Keak da Sneak last year, who is the person who actually coined the term Hyphy, and Stunnaman and DJ Westcoast this year. Both shows featured some of the best turf dancers from the Bay. (Turfing being a Bay Area dance style that takes its influence from Tutting, bone breaking and gliding). We continue this pre-show tradition because we always want to book and promote artists from the community, and ensure that people from out of town get to see the Bay the way we do.

Overall Mother, the Icon Michell’e Basquiat at the Hella Hyphy Ball no. 2.
[Photo by Randy Lucina. ID: Overall Mother, the Icon Michell’e Basquiat poses in the sunlight at the Hella Hyphy Ball no. 2. Michell’e has long, bright red hair and wears a black mesh top with denim shorts. Onlookers clap and hold up their phones.]

The Hella Hyphy Ball has also bridged the gap between the hip hop and the queer community, and created a space where everyone can share freely.

Currently, everything publicized about the Bay Area is bad: robberies, shootings, smash-and-grabs. Safe communal spaces, like the Hella Hyphy Ball, are forgotten. Bay Area excellence is forgotten. This year Kamala Harris inspired one of our vogue categories. Though she may be polarizing to some, she is the FIRST EVER Black and Asian American female Vice President of the United States. And she’s from Oakland. That is HISTORIC, as are many social movements that have occurred here, like the creation of the Black Panther Party. We’ve created vogue categories inspired by Bay Area sports teams, Lake Merritt, Oscar Grant, Keyshia Cole, Too Short, Marshawn Lynch, the Thizzle Dance and more. We always want to celebrate Bay Area culture with the Hella Hyphy Ball.





This article appears in the Fall 2023 issue of In Dance.

OAKLAND TO ALL is a collaborative that seeks to foster an inclusive space for the ballroom community of the Bay Area and its surroundings. The ballroom scene is primarily comprised of Black and Latino LGBTQ+ individuals—communities that continue to be underserved. Our collaborative creates an inclusive atmosphere for LGBTQ+ Black and Brown folks and their allies to express themselves in a fun, safe and creative way. Access to resources and links to care are established through our partnership with local LGBTQ+ community based organizations. Instagram handle: @oaklandtoall