“What’s the house you say you are in? It’s the M-I-L-A-N, MI-MILAAAN!” The chant is loud and the thrill is shared; a sense of empowerment fills the air. For the Milans, their ‘House’ is more than a creative union forged in the bustling ballroom underground, it is a portal into something profound—the means to find ‘home’ within oneself and within others.
Marginalized voices have always written their own lexicon and created worlds out of the need to escape the one they live in. Ballroom culture is a prime example of this. Having flourished in the Harlem ballrooms over a century ago, the movement was born as an antidote to the norm. It was a chance to redefine that troublesome word “normal”, to accommodate the lives of queer, Black, PoC, and non-conforming bodies—an appropriation of the heteronormative culture that is also a resistance to it. Ballroom is first and foremost about visibility, being unabashedly queer, and unapologetic in our self-love and self-celebration. It provides shelter from an often hostile society, while throwing back glances, loudly queering them, wrapping them in dramatic poses and sharp movements, and serving them voguing style.
Now a global phenomenon, ballroom is a platform for creative minds to share and seek out what feeds their creativity, evaluate the space they take up, and uplift the so-called Others. ‘Houses’ are the families and support systems of ballroom kids; they are sanctuaries built into the everyday. They are the ones who bring the spectacle to the ‘balls’. More than just competitions, balls are safe spaces to exist in, fully and freely, without asking for permission; where labels are for clothes and marginalized identities are nurtured, rather than exploited. It is in those brief moments, as queers and racial Others lower their guard and consume the spotlight, that the margin becomes the center—if only momentarily.
The Iconic Royal House of Milan is one of the many ‘Houses’ that has contributed to molding this alternative reality. The ‘House’ has a discernible aesthetic that explains its abiding appeal. Often described as “the one to watch,” its richness is revealed in its tenacity and sharp refinement—subversive, but never without a sense of grace. Since its ballroom debut in 1989, an interest in fashion is what shapes the ‘House’; explorations of it taking the form of voguing or rendered through the use of garments in the categories Runway and Best Dressed. With a knack for reinterpreting classic elegance, the ‘House’ stands for excellence and fierce competition; the same combination that first lured the now icons Melsun, Roger, Terry, Brenda, Jamal, and Stanley to join and roar the American ballroom landscapes of the 1990s. Today, the House of Milan has international ‘branches’ and is ever-evolving, yet it still contains a heaping slice of the creative legacy that started it; for ballroom is a culture where the past is never dead. The Milans’s diverse, creative entanglements tell beautiful and stirring stories of connectedness, coming at us in fragments of bodies and movements. More than anything, the European Chapter of the House of Milan is an extended family of ballroom childrens finding comfort in each other, despite being geographically apart—fitting the “me” into a group that champions the same struggle and feeds the same creative well. All of this occurs under the reassuring hands of leaders and parental figures such as Icon Stanley Milan or the German Father David Milan; who feed the feeling of love, for oneself, each other, and the culture itself.
Berlin-based photographer Rita Lino has captured this vibrant and eclectic world through an intimate editorial, with insight into the blossoming House of Milan in Europe. Like fragments of another time, the images are a playful, sincere collection of members, aesthetics, emotional matters, and the interpersonal. Ballroom is fully alive—its creative legacy still informing the present—and the Milans are fully visible, putting their place in history; their stories becoming pinboard needles in an ever-expanding map.
Photos: Rita Lino, Styling: Fabio Pace, Fotoassistenz: José Maria, Stylingassistenz: Ann-Kathrin Lietz, Helena Kuhnen, Celina Busch, Text Devid Gualandris, Casting: Royal House of Milan – including Stanley, David, Devid, Bozrna, Danil, Dada, Michael & Goma