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The Franklin Institute filled up with flair last weekend as guests adorned in colorful gowns strutted down an illuminated runway at the historic institution’s Summer Ball.
A special Pride month edition of the Franklin’s regular “Science After Hours” event, the party featured a ballroom showcase by choreographer Kumar Jewel, drag shows by local queens, and flash talks on sexual health, fashion, and food — all while DJ Electric Honey kept a dance party going in the planetarium tricked out with psychedelic patterns.
The idea was to create a welcoming queer space for all, said Adam Piazza, the Institute’s experience produce and talent manager.
“You should expect right from when you walk in this explosion of energy … the lights, the colors, the music — it should feel like you’re being welcomed into a party,” Piazza said. “You come in, you feel welcome, and then you have time to choose your own adventure.”
The event’s name paid homage to Philadelphia’s culture of ballroom, a longstanding LGBTQ+ subculture where people form houses and come together to compete for trophies.
Choreographer Jewel is part of the House of Xclusive Lanvin. He joined the voguing scene after being kicked out of his home at 16, and the ballroom community took him in.
“For me, ballroom, voguing, all of this stuff is about community. It’s about being connected to my ancestors,” said Jewel. “It’s about this lifeline of this history that goes back almost 100 years.”
At the Franklin Institute in Center City last weekend, Jewel helped share some of that history. He ran two separate ball showcases throughout the night, alongside dancers Dalyla Mizani Cristal and Hayden West. Crowds gathered around the atrium as they demonstrated the five elements of vogue: catwalk, hands, spins and dips, duckwalks, and floor performance.
Soon the members of the audience joined in, as Jewel ran them through a routine that had them dropping to the floor.
Over in the Franklin’s much-beloved giant heart, audience members sitting on beanbags listened to flash talks hosted by Jayatri Das, the institute’s chief bioscientist.
“We wanted to get people who represent different communities and different interests,” Das told Billy Penn before the show. “My goal is really just to facilitate a conversation about how insights from science are really applicable to the actions and decisions that we each make every day about our own lives.”
Fashion designer and former “Project Runway” contestant Nancy Volpe Beringer was one of the event’s speakers, giving a talk about how fashion can make us feel. Beringer founded her couture brand here in Philadelphia with a focus on inclusivity and was the oldest contestant to ever appear on the reality TV show.
Researcher Federica Genovese and Jiana Burdick, founder of Get Fresh Philly, told the crowd about how our senses interact with the food we eat.
Meanwhile, sexual health educator Timaree Schmit gave an actual PowerPoint presentation about pleasure — and the power of consent.
“You may love going to everything that’s loud and bright. Or maybe you like going to something that’s more calm, meditative and like thought-provoking, said Piazza, the Franklin’s experience producer. “It should just be a huge boost of serotonin — you should just feel so happy and proud of who you are.”
Scroll down to check out more pics from the Franklin Institute 2022 Summer Ball.