Malaysian Voguer Teddy Gets Candid on His Queerness, Ballroom Culture, and Kiki House of Neverland

Speaking of dancing with our hands tied.
Photography Sarah Hobbs

A sudden burst of energy overwhelmed the otherwise intimate space of a local hotspot. Fabulous faces, decked in equally fabulous fashion, began streaming in to witness and partake in an extravaganza unlike anyone had ever seen. The youth hit the floor with expressive and dramatic runway walks. It was a jarring sight if one had no taste for the grandiose, but even then, the ensuing performances on display conveyed such a powerful, alchemical mixture of unadulterated personality and sheer dance discipline that one couldn’t help but admire.

“I’m a trailblazer,” said Ong Xing Kai, better known as Teddy. The founding parent of Kiki House of Neverland was the one who set the whole thing in motion. The 2018 Belacan Ball was indeed a momentous event as it provided the local queer community with a safe space for self-expression and marked the birth of the country’s own ballroom scene: an underground subculture originated in New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood—also the birthplace of the highly stylised vogue dance—by Black and Latino LGBT communities in the 1960s.

Exposed to waacking since he was a teenager, the Malacca- born, however, only discovered the ballroom culture and voguing when an opportunity to perform alongside Tokyo Gegegay arose. The scarcity of Southeast Asian voguers had the organiser launching an online open call of some sort and Teddy was properly intrigued. He promptly learned all the moves and eventually landed the coveted spot. It was then that he met A-Yao Ninja of the House of Ninja who taught him all there was to know about voguing, which opened up a whole new world to him.

Photography Sarah Hobbs

“I do a lot of Hands Performance. It is a part of the Vogue Fem category, aside from the other four elements: Catwalk, Spins and Dips, Duckwalks, and Floor Performance,” he commented about his chosen category to walk in. Teddy ever so often dabbles in Arms Control. It is part of the New Way category—an updated version of the original style of voguing, characterised by rigid movements and arms control, and he is known to obliterate every pose, detonating the crowd with his commanding presence and razor-sharp poses.

“Voguing made me who I am today. It gives me confidence. It gives me a home. It gives me love. This magic of a dance allows me to look in the mirror and appreciate myself,” said the 29-year-old, before lamenting the impossibility for one to embrace their queerness and feel comfortable in their skin in such a conservative country. “I have faced all sorts of violence because of my sexual orientation. People treated me like a disease. I had no way to stand up for myself and I didn’t know how to protect myself,” he sighed, recalling some of the painful experiences he had to live through over the years including the abuse he’d taken at home.

The volatile situation eventually pushed him over the edge and he attempted suicide by ingesting a handful of pills at the age of 13. “I was going to do it again—that’s how badly I wanted to go at the time,” he confided. But something near miraculous happened. He was reminded of a looming showcase that he was supposed to participate in. Despite his crippling despondency, he pulled through. “Being on stage… I felt like I could be myself. All these people were open-minded and they accepted me for who I was, cheering me on while I was performing. That was when I decided to stay. I am alive today because of dance,” he acknowledged.

Photo Credit: Kiki House of Neverland

Teddy has been living the ball culture even before he knew what it was. After he left home for Kuala Lumpur, he was forced to fend for himself for an excruciating period of time before he was taken under the wings of a ‘mother’ who, despite his failings—he was a notorious scammer in the scene and suffered from drug addiction—gave Teddy a home like nothing he’d ever known. Along the way, Teddy encountered many others whose stories, when it comes down to it, were not so different from his and developed a sense of kinship with them.

“I knew I could help them. I wanted them to succeed in life,” he said, reiterating that he was still oblivious to the concept of Houses. “After I learned about voguing, I started reading up on the culture and found that I have been doing all of that! So I created Kiki House of Neverland,” he added. When asked about the criteria one must meet to be part of the House, Teddy shared that he is more concerned about providing a safe space for those who need it, rather than their ability to ‘serve on the floor’ and win prizes.

Writer, dancer, and model Natasha is one of those who have been taken under his wing. “The House symbolises family and the endurance of change. It is about acceptance and healing,” she shared. The multitalented personality first met Teddy when she participated in his vogue femme class back in 2017 but it was only a year later, at a dancer’s party, that they were properly acquainted. “At one point, Teddy and I just gravitated towards each other on the dance floor. We danced while holding hands and I felt an instant kinship,” she recalled.

Photo Credit: Kiki House of Neverland

Natasha, however, did not become a member of Kiki House of Neverland until last year after she went to a month-long vogue femme class for beginners that Teddy spearheaded. “He just sent me a voice message one day and said that he wanted to adopt me. I was thrilled of course,” she said. Expressing her appreciation, Natasha continued, “I’m still very new to this but it’s one of the best things to happen to me. It has allowed me to do so many new things and embrace the different layers of myself.”

Echoing the same sentiment is Jeyah. The 23-year-old learned about Teddy when he stumbled upon his page on Instagram. It was then that he fell in love with voguing and promptly signed up for his classes. “After a couple of years of dance lessons, Teddy invited me to join the House. It was sometime in 2019,” he said. The Ipoh-born added that the House gives him a sense of belonging and it is particularly amplified whenever he is strutting his stuff on the runway, as the House members would chant and cheer for him.

It is the kind of support that, like many others, he lacks. “To me, a House is a family that you choose. It is a family that has given me unconditional love and support. I did not get that from my biological parents, so I grew up afraid to be who I am,” he said candidly. He went on to contemplate what his life would have been like without Kiki House of Neverland. “Without this House, I don’t think I would be able to stand proud being my authentic self and ultimately be confident on that runway,” he added.

Photo Credit: Kiki House of Neverland

“Queerness is important to be part of the House. I find that queer people are more committed to the craft and the House, probably because we know the struggles all too well,” Teddy interjected, before adding that there have been unique cases that led to the House taking in cisgender female members. Seemingly aware of the danger of replicating his biological parents’ mistakes, Teddy admitted that he’s still learning how to be a good “father” to his children. “There will be times when I’ll be in the wrong. I’m open to my children taking me to task,” he said.

Being a father has also helped him make peace with his past. “I have forgiven my birth parents. Being a parent myself, I have learned about the sides of parenthood that I didn’t know before,” he said, stressing that a father does more than love the children, fix them, and put them on stage. Through his time as a father and experience in the ballroom scene in general, Teddy has learned to let go. He realises that he is who he is today because of everything that happened to him. “Even if I could go back in time and change everything, I wouldn’t,” he whispered, beaming with pride.