To Be Real

Chantal Regnault shares a collection of images capturing the Ballroom scene in an era of purity—untouched by the larger world, real people finding refugee amongst each other.

Photography by Chantal Regualt
Issue 002

When an outsider enters the room, many things can happen. One, of those things can be the act of not acting, of simply allowing the other to observe and to be present among the life that is already happening. Chantal Regualt (CR) entered the New York City Ballroom scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s and was allowed to be present with her camera. Over 30 years later, Regnault, now 75, sits with a skinny cigarette dangling between two fingers. “I’m an old addict,” she says laughing. She is joined by photographer and activist. Luna Luis Ortiz (LLO), one of the “kids” she captured during those few years when she became the part of a community that is present to simply record. Over Zoom, Regualt is seated continents away, but also close to Ortiz, as they try their best to remember the stories of Chantal’s images, the people in them, and a real moment in time—the ballroom untouched by the outside world.

LLO: Yeah, yeah. I was at that Ball and that’s where I see Chantal. Of course, I don’t know what Chantal is doing. I just see this lady—I’m going to say old white lady—taking pictures. In a sea of black and brown skin, you notice a Chantal in the room. It’s like, who is that? I was already intrigued with photography, so I just I kept looking her way, and I was kind of trying to get her attention, too. I know photography is forever. So I was trying to get Chan- tal to take my picture in some sort of way. I don’t think she even noticed that I was there, there were so many beautiful fem queens.

CR: Laughter.

LLO: Chantal captured the what can be considered the golden age of Ball Room. Chantal’s images captured the innocence and the connection of family, the love. She captured the community at a time before the losses that we endured, before Paris Burning, before Madonna’s Vogue song. After Paris Is Burning and Madonna, Ballroom just went insane. So Chantal’s images captured the inno- cence and the connection of family, the love.

LLO: When people usually think of the Ballroom scene it this thing that happens indoors as though were always inside, in the dark. But here you see something common—a family picnic at the park. You see us outside. You see us in society. And, perhaps that gives a different perspective. A lot of people who pay attention to the more popular depictions of the Ballroom scene, and the culture that surrounded it, think that we slept all day, that we were all waiting for the next Ball. No jobs, no life. But that is not the case. We had and have full lives, day and night. We were not in hiding, especially when we were together.


Thelonious Stokes, an Introduction


The Center