Mexican Ballroom Pioneer Franka Polari Has Died

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
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Mexican ballroom legend Franka Polari has passed away, dealing yet another a blow to Mexico’s queer community after losing pioneering drag queen Super Perra mere weeks ago. The news of Polari’s passing broke on the evening of Sunday, March 8, as thousands wound down from the massive International Women’s Day protests rippling through Mexico and other major Latin American cities. Small personal gatherings and kiki balls have been held in his honor at Museo del Chopo and various nightclubs over the course of the week, where the community has mourned the influential activist and community organizer.

“It’s with profound heartache we inform you all of the passing of one of our mothers, Franka Polari,” read a statement from the House of Apocalipstick, the voguing house co-founded by Polari and Victoria Letal. “Franka’s departure is part of a chapter that now comes to a close, but the next will continue with the legacy of all who’ve walked under the Apocalipstick name and found in ballroom a space of happiness.”

Polari, aka Omar Feliciano Mendoza, will be remembered as one of the most influential names in Latin American ballroom, cultivating close relationships with foundational figures of the culture in the U.S. and touring throughout South America, leading talks and workshops in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. His mission went beyond popularizing the acrobatic voguing synonymous with ballroom, instead intent on teaching the history of community trailblazers and developing the tenets of empathy and surrogate family building at the core of the scene. Polari encouraged newcomers to find their own voice through ballroom, from experimenting with new dance styles to honing their own rapid-fire MC skills, which can be heard on musical collaborations with producers like Bufi and Lao.

Polari’s death coincided with the closing of highly-acclaimed exhibit “Elements of Vogue,” which ran at Museo del Chopo from November 15 – March 8, and hosted numerous kiki balls in their main hall. Outside the world of ballroom, he was known for his work with reproductive rights organization GIRE, his writings on gender and sexuality for UNAM’s Grupo Universitario de la Diversidad Sexual and as an outspoken voice of Mexico’s HIV-AIDS movement.

Upon a request from Remezcla, the House of Apocalipstick declined to comment on Polari’s cause of death.