Events

45 Years of Ovahness, Realness, & Performance: The Legacy of the House of Ultra Omni


Thursday, April 18, 2024 | 7 PM EST

20 Cooper Sq., 5th FL.

Join us for an evening of Ballroom and celebration as we honor the rich and expansive legacy of The House of Ultra Omni on the occasion of its 45th Anniversary. On January 21st, 1979 Kevin Burrus and Thomas “Dimples” Baker founded 'The House of Omni' in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. On that day, these pioneers of ballroom culture opened the dictionary and selected the word “Omni” to capture the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnifarious spirit of their undertaking. Soon thereafter, Burrus initiated the move of house-structured Balls from Harlem to downtown New York City.

Mellon Artist in Residence Diamond Pioneer Icon Kevin Ultra Omni Burrus will lead us on a journey in conversation with ballroom artists, historians, and archivists to discuss the groundbreaking artistry and activism of The House of Ultra Omni. Together, they will explore five decades of the creativity and the iconic expressions of freedom of dancers who continue to activate African ancestral dance practices through their movement.

As a pioneer of ballroom culture, Burrus initiated and curated the first mini ball in 1982 in Brooklyn, and launched online balls during COVID-19. Burrus holds over 370+ titles in ballroom including 2X Lifetime Achiever Awards, 2X Hall of Fame (East & West Coast), The NY Legacy Award, Legendary Face, Iconic Face, Face Over 50, Diamond Pioneer Icon, Legendary High Fashion Executive, and more! Along with carrying legendary trophies/titles in ballroom and awards for community service, Kevin Ultra Omni has contributed to the Harlem Arts Council, Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD), and New York City's Black Pride board.

The House of Ultra Omni was the first house to advocate that Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GHMC) provide information, safer sex products, and health resources at ball events in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic affecting the LGBTIQA+ community. In 2012, he created The Kevin Omni Burial Fund to cover funeral expenses for members of the House Ball community.

Panelists will include Diamond Pioneer Icon Kevin Ultra Omni Burrus, Legendary Icon Saladin Mohammed Omni, Archivist/Producer Felix Rodríguez Milan, House of Milan Famer Kai Milan Bond, and Ballroom scholar Victor Omni.

The event will be moderated by Camille Lawrence, ‘Lady C' of Ultra Omni and Associate Research Archivist at the Hemispheric Institute, which will be documented and preserved in the forthcoming House of Ultra Omni Collection in the Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library (HIDVL).


Kevin Ultra Omni

Kevin Ultra Omni is an iconic pioneer of ballroom culture and an international ballroom historian. Burrus is also an assistant film director, human rights and community activist, and philanthropist. In 1979, Burrus co-founded one of the first Brooklyn ballroom houses—the worldwide pioneering House of Ultra Omni. While working on Wall Street, he became an icon in underground ballroom culture. At The House of Ultra Omni, Burrus built an art form and a personal legacy as a chosen father to his members. He continues to serve as a devoted House Father to hundreds of Ballroom children. Burrus joins Hemi as Artist in Residence in 2024, the year which marks the 45th Anniversary of The House of Ultra Omni. This pioneering house has sustained the ballroom scene, spread ballroom and voguing culture globally, and remained a guardian of its history. As a Spring 2024 Mellon Artist in Residence at NYU’s Hemispheric Institute, Burrus will curate The House of Ultra Omni’s collection for the Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library (HIDVL) with the collaboration of the Institute’s Associate Research Archivist Camille Lawrence. The House of Ultra Omni Collection will include historic documentation of balls and other events as well as a series of new interviews conducted by Kevin and Camille Lawrence.

Victor Ultra Omni

Victor Ultra Omni is a trans masculine Afro-latine memory worker, teacher, and writer deeply committed to Black feminism. Since 2017, they have been a proud father in the iconic worldwide pioneering house of Ultra Omni. Victor calls Decatur, Georgia home. Victor's daily adventures unfold alongside their partner Graciela, two four-legged companions, and chosen family who all bring extra joy to the mix. With each step, Victor weaves a tapestry of memories, challenges norms, and adds a splash of color to the canvas of life.

Victor Ultra Omni is a PhD candidate in the department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. Victor’s dissertation tentatively titled The Love Ball: A History of New York City’s House-Structured Ballroom Culture 1972-1992 provides a historical treatment of the origins of ballroom culture. They employ methods of oral history to engage pioneers of house-structured ballroom culture. Their work is published in Trans Studies Quarterly (TSQ)the African American Intellectual Historical SocietyThe Black Scholar, and the textbook Feminist Studies: Foundations, Conversations, and Applications, among other publications.

Their most recent publication in the Black Scholar “Who Gets to Be The Expert on My Life?” can be read here.

Kai Milan Bond

Kai Milan Bond . Kai Milan Bond is an activist, artist, Iconic Hall of Famer from The House of Milan, and Godfather of The House of Ultra Omni. Kai was born and raised in Newark, NJ, a twin to his loving brother Shaheed. He grew up in a spiritual community, singing in New Hope Baptist church alongside Whitney Houston as a child. Kai completed his BA in Communications from Fairleigh Dickinson University and was an athlete throughout his academic career. Shortly after graduation, Kai toured across the country performing, recording, and singing as a background singer and as a solo artist.

Kai was introduced to the ballroom scene in 1992 and became active in balls in 1997. He began walking Dark Lovely Face, winning several face titles early on. After walking for two years, he took a short break from Ballroom to tour with the singing group Ghost Town DJs. When Kai returned to Ballroom in 2000, he fell in love with the category All American runway, a masculine category to which he knew he could bring unique elements. Leading with sex appeal and swag, Kai became a stand-out favorite in the category, winning All-American of the Year for four consecutive years in NY, Philly, and DC. He continued walking balls and became a legendary All-American in 2006.

Kai continued to compete as a legend, winning and dominating his competitions, receiving many awards, and becoming the very first Icon for All American Runway in Ballroom history. Kai has hosted over eight successful balls and created the Ballroom category called 'Thug Realness with a Twist,' which debuted at the 2016 NY Status Ball. Kai also hosts Ballroom radio shows and received a Ballroom journalism award. He continues educating and teaching All American Runway in the U.S., as well as in Europe and Canada. Kai has mentored and birthed many Ballroom legends and is respected and admired throughout Ballroom nationally and internationally as a three-time Ballroom Hall of Famer.

Felix Rodriguez

Felix Rodriguez is a filmmaker and archivist of the LGBTQ Ballroom Culture. He has documented and been recognized as a preservationist of this Ballroom scene since the early 1990s. Additionally, he is an artist trained in writing, directing, and producing. He received his MFA in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and has worked as a camera operator, editor, producer, and director for non-profit organizations such as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and with networks such as f/X, WNET, Bravo, NBC, and ABC.  Additionally, Félix has had a handful of plays produced, including Life’s A Drag, a play about a trans woman who is legendary in the ballroom scene but is not accepted at home by her Evangelical Christian mother.

Félix is the recipient of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ James Baldwin/Julia De Burgos Award for giving the ballroom community hope and life through his art. He is the 2022 Honoree of the Prime Latino Media Community Service Award & the Annual Gay City News IMPACT Award in 2022.

He has conducted in-person screenings and virtual presentations of his archival LGBTQ+ ballroom footage globally. From Pace University in New York City to the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, dance studios in the US, Russia, Canada and the UK. He has also organized and hosted the Learn Your History Mini Kiki Ball for the past five years at the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD), an event whose genesis was in the Bronx, but has grown exponentially being presented at Lincoln Center for LGBTQ Pride Month.

Salaudin Muhammad

Born in New York 1966, Salaudin Muhammad, a proud Native West African American child, grew up in America’s culturally rich inner-city drum; dance cities, New York and Chicago. Keenly observing the African drum, its rhythm and history, he received private school education based in comparative African cultural studies under strong Moorish science scholarship during his formative years. It marked the beginning of an ethnomusicological journey through what is known today as "Voguing". Exploring wider ranges of dance expression, his interest in acrobatics & technical dance increased since his modeling and martial art training. Originally performing as back-up dancer in prominent theatrical lip-sync show and pageantry venues during his mid-teens, Salaudin later studied Performance (Voguing) as future NYC dance sport legend inspired by fellow teenager Anthony "Irma" Carswell a/k/a "Yves of New Jersey's House of Grace. Frequenting clubs such as Peter Rabbits; Better Days, he then began receiving training and pointers from his mentor and pioneer, the late, great Stevie St. Laurent in 1983. Predating Stevie’s television interview at work in NY, Omni Ball filmed by MTV in 1989, or Paris Is Burning’s 1991 box office release, Salaudin was the first consecutively introduce performance to studio interviews on Sidney’s “DANCE SHOW,” Joan’s “PEOPLE MEETING PEOPLE,” and Goldstein’s “NO LEFT TURN” in Atlanta, America’s cable television “mecca” of the time. After his first Ballroom Trophy at the Adonis Ball held at the Elks Lodge Ballroom, a legendary entertainment landmark in Harlem, NY, he was awarded both grand prize trophy for Pop Dip; Spin (Performance category) and ball house membership with iconic pioneering worldwide Brooklyn based House of Omni, the organization noted for intellectualism, diplomacy, credibility, and respect formulated by Kevin.

After appearing in music videos with Queen Latifah, Jody Watley, he was honored as a Legend of Vogue in the historic Designer's Industry Foundation For AIDS fundraiser the “Love Ball” at New York’s legendary Roseland Ballroom. After provided important contributions to film documentaries; books including Wolfgang Busch’s How Do I Look and Tim Lawrence’s Voguing And the House Ballroom Scene”. He’s received prestigious awards given to important achievers in the Voguing and ball room community including the "Kevin Omni" Lifetime Achiever Award, the "Willie Ninja" Icon Award, and the 19th New York Ballroom Hall of Fame Award. He's taught or influenced legends; icons such as Julian Mugler, Derrick Extravaganza, Derrick Icon, Vintage Ultra Omni, Aus "Omni" Milan and Caroline "Omni" Milan including Marina "Omni" 007.

Emerging from ballroom contender to performing artist, Mr. Muhammad has evolved as an instructor, choreographer, educator, historian and international consultant, and Vogue Performance expert receiving flawless reviews from Guy Trebay, associate editor of the NY Times. Salaudin Muhammad a lifetime member of the worldwide HOUSE of ULTRA OMNI, established the World Performance Congress, an organization which mission is the educational, cultural, and global preservation of traditional Performance (Voguing) history and dance technique. After building a website for the World Performance Congress research group project, the final step was to take on or publish Performance: Voguing's Ethnic Dance History, the one manuscript that became the most challenging project in the history of performance.

Camille Lawrence
Camille Lawrence (she/her) is an archivist, artist, curator, and the founder of Black Beauty Archives. Lawrence’s work focuses on the art history, innovations, and diversity of artistic expression across the African Diaspora. She is primarily interested in exploring and archiving identity formation throughout the African diaspora and culture through three foundational principles: oral, physical, and ritual. Lawrence’s background as an art historian, artist, and beauty practitioner informs her approach to archival work. Her projects include Black Beauty Archives and contributions to Urban Bush Women, BAM DanceAfrica, and Black Dance Stories.

On Juneteenth 2020, Lawrence founded Black Beauty Archives to document, preserve, and archive the history of Black Beauty culture. Lawrence’s professional makeup artist experience includes publications in VOGUE, Sophisticate’s Black Hair StylesThe New York Times, and TV/Film with Apple, CNBC, Disney, ESPN, Hallmark, and Nike. In 2022, Black Beauty Archives was featured in Oprah Daily and mentioned on CNN and The Hollywood Reporter. Lawrence completed her BA in Art History and a minor in Global Black Studies from SUNY Purchase. She is completing her MLIS from CUNY Queens College and Beauty Essentials Certification from the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Hemispheric Institute
20 Cooper Square
New York, NY 10003

Speakers

Diamond Pioneer Icon Kevin Ultra Omni Burrus, Legendary Icon Saladin Mohammed Omni, Archivist/Producer Felix Rodríguez Milan, Kai Milan Bond, and Victor Omni. Moderated by Camille Lawrence, ‘Lady C of Ultra Omni,’ Associate Research Archivist.

About this event series

The event will be in English.
This is an in-person event that requires registration. All non-NYU attendees must RSVP in advance. Video documentation will be made available on the Institute website following the event.