Get there early.
As those wise souls who discovered the Odd Ball last year will remember, its innocuous start time, 8 pm, is no deterrent for partygoers. And the buzz on this year’s installment of Vancouver’s most alternative Pride party has only been mounting.
So how did a do aimed at misfits and geeks, outsiders and, literally, oddballs, become the hippest party spot around?
Michael V Smith–one of the oddest oddballs I’m lucky enough to know–wears green buttons for earrings as he sits on the concrete steps of Robson Square. Our opening small talk soon shifts into a discussion of community building and the party he has helped create. For Smith, community building and partying are one and the same.
“I think this is a segregated community,” he says. “You have the lesbians, and the gay guys, and the bears, all separate.
“Vancouver’s just young–finding its legs,” he continues. “I’ve certainly noticed a change in the past 10 years.”
Along with three others (Amber Dawn, Brie Grey-Noble and Zena Sharman) Smith produced last year’s Odd Ball as a reaction against homogenized queer parties and the commercialization that so often overruns Pride events.
“The reason we threw the party was to have a space where everyone felt welcome–I mean financially, too–and where you can invite your friends. It’s about having a good time with a lot of really interesting people.”
Dawn says the Odd Ball plays in the same arena as Toronto’s famed alt-queer Vaseline parties (where she and Smith once performed) and the new, underground Bent parties that have been popping up in East Van. “It felt good in there [Vaseline]. For me to see some young drag king dancing with an older leather fag just makes my day. We get a lot of joy out of seeing people come together and celebrate together.”
They’re not alone. Partygoers from last year’s Odd Ball fell over themselves raving about the event. I still remember one attendee comparing it to a high school prom where all the jocks and cheerleaders had died on a bus the night before.
“It does have this sort of high school sock hop feel,” laughs Dawn. “I’ve never felt comfortable at expensive, high-glam parties where I feel a lot of ego in the room.”
Its hours are similar to a high school dance, too. Running from 8 pm-midnight on Pride Day, the Odd Ball fills the gap between daytime festivities and the usual late-night parties.
It’s a lot more than just a sock hop, though. Some of Vancouver’s best cabaret and burlesque performers have already made Odd Ball parties synonymous with ribald and sexy performance art.
Last year, stilt walkers roved among the crowds while a mysterious horse-headed woman got nasty on the dance floor. This year, the Wet Spots will be on hand, performing a mysterious dance number to one of their beloved comedy-sex songs.
“It’s not a sit-down show,” says Dawn of the evening’s entertainment. “We don’t have a lineup running back to back. Performances are mixed in with the actual party. You can expect to be dancing and the next thing you know something very interesting is happening. There’s no audience-performer divide. The performances come right into the party. I tend to front performers that are sexy, but more on the humorous side.”
Horse-headed strippers, for example, are always welcome.
So are straight people, incidentally. “My gay community includes straight people,” says Smith. “Just as I expect the straight community to include me.”
What the Odd Ball promotes and draws together are the people who see themselves as truly queer, and that doesn’t preclude heterosexuality. “We call it the Odd Ball,” says Smith, “because it would include all those people who didn’t have some one place to go–people with broad tastes, who want to see a bit of everything.”
Which is not to say that Odd Ballers can’t party as hard as anyone else. That’s the surprising thing about this party: you find yourself rubbing elbows (or anything else) with people you’ve never properly engaged with before. It’s community building in its finest, sexiest, most revolutionary sense.