Honey Balenciaga, the Automata

Honey Balenciaga, the Automata

Mar 28, 2024

Honey Balenciaga is in her prime. The 22-year-old dancer has just gotten off of the Renaissance world tour, where she exhibited major main character vibes every night by duck walking and dipping — an estimated 90 times, that is — in front of Beyoncé. “That was an out of body experience,” she tells PAPER. “The fact that I'm the only person Beyoncé has ever snapped her dip to, like, that's fab.”

And it doesn’t stop there. Aside from dancing for Bey, the born-and-bred New Yorker is a busy bee as a fashion it-girl, brand darling and true on-the-ground vogue vixen in the streets of New York. In the recent mainstream-ification of ballroom culture, Balenciaga stands out through her lovable personality and infectious energy that harkens back to the heyday of underground vogue houses.

It all stems from her days as a 14-year-old learning how to vogue on the piers in New York. “It was a bunch of people, all ages and statuses. And we would even vogue going to the pier in the middle of the street.”

Now, she’s ready to be the center of attention by dropping a series of mini visual albums. Automata, shot by Devin Fearrington and premiering today exclusively on PAPER, is an initial teaser of what’s to come. Below, we discuss the importance of raw creativity, blacking out on stage and the current state of ballroom.

How are you, Honey? You said the past few days were crazy.

Crazy. I was working on getting signed to a new agency, and we came to an understanding. And I'm finally signed to an agency, so I'm really excited about that.

Must feel refreshing.

Honestly, it was so refreshing. I was with Black Agency for a very long time. It's one of the first agencies I started out with before getting a little bit of fame, so it's nice to have a fresh start with a new team.

You were a trained dancer before this, right?

Yeah. I was more so into ballet, jazz and hip-hop. All that kind of transferred over to vogue, and ever since vogue has been a thing, it's just taken over.

And this new agency is more like ...?

It’s way more fab. It’s definitely my ménage à trois.

I saw on your Instagram that you did 84 dips on the Renaissance tour. How do you keep your body in good shape? What's your routine?

We actually had a good team on tour to take care of our bodies. We had a masseuse. We had a chiropractor. But usually throughout the weekends, me and my other cast mates would go get cold plunges, ice baths or massages —nything that will help maintain our masterpiece of a body. It was kind of hard to maintain health because I do a lot of crazy shit on stage. Even with all the massages and stuff that I've done, I still injured myself. Even now, I'm just trying to rest and not do too much on my knee. But overall, everything's good right now.

It's mostly the knee, right?

Yeah, I actually tore my meniscus and my ACL on my right knee.

From doing dips?

From voguing, doing the 84 to 90 dips. I honestly don't know what I'm gonna do until I get on stage. Then when I get off stage and I see the videos, suddenly it all just takes over. I'll feel it afterwards. So it's kind of weird to be clocked out of my own consciousness while I'm dancing. But it's a good feeling.

Adrenaline is the most powerful drug.

Literally. My adrenaline keeps me up all night after the show. I didn’t go to sleep til like, 4 a.m.

I have crazy insomnia, but I bet after a show, it's like … do you take a melatonin or what?

Smoke a few blunts, and go straight to bed, girl.

I feel like you embody that true New Yorker grit that’s kind of rare to find nowadays.

Thank you, because the girls don’t be giving New York no more.

What do you think about that, or why is that?

I think it's late. I don't know. I've seen a lot of people that have come to New York that aren't technically born and raised in New York. It’s giving implants boots.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in the Bronx. I was raised in East New York, Brooklyn. And I went to school in Queens, actually, so I’m all around.

What were you into growing up? Any YouTube videos or media that were really formative growing up?

I was definitely a movie girl. Me and my family would go to the movie theaters, between like Friday and Sunday when my father had off of work. And we would just watch movies every single week. I honestly loved going to the movie theaters because I would always envision myself being in a movie. That's one of my number one dreams. Even though I dance with the most amazing woman in the world, my number one dream still is starring in a film. And it just brings me back to that moment, sharing it with my family. I actually just found out yesterday, because I wanted to go take my mom to the same movie theaters growing up, that that movie theater is shut down. I’m really over it. It’s becoming a mall.

Do you see these old relics from your childhood around New York that are just gentrified or completely abandoned now that makes you sad or nostalgic?

I wouldn't say my hood because my hood is still banjee cunt. Oop! I think there's two places that I've noticed growing up have completely changed, which is my movie theater, and going to the pier near West 4th, where I learned how to vogue, I used to walk past this smoke shop every day that is actually being shut down. It's just a relic now. And it's kind of sad, seeing the route that I used to take as a kid going to the pier with all my girlfriends, smoking a blunt, going to learn how to vogue on the pier in the summertime — a lot of it is just being gentrified. And it's kind of fading away.

I feel like true New Yorkers can feel those energy shifts in New York the most. Where are you trying to live now?

I definitely want to be in Brooklyn. I don't think I want to be anywhere else. I mean, the girls could afford a fab place in SoHo, but I'm not trying to pay for a box.

Tell me about those times voguing on the pier. How old were you?

Oh my god, I was 14 or 15. I started learning how to vogue in a program in New York called "The Door." I learned all different styles there that they offered for free. But every Friday, they had a vogue class. We would all go to the pier together and just walk straight from Broome Street all the way to the pier at Christopher [Street]. And we would even vogue going to the pier in the middle of the street. It was a bunch of people, all ages and statuses. Legends, statements and stars. It was just a big kiki at the pier. Very Pose about the situation, if that helps you paint the image better.

Does that still exist?

Absolutely. People are still going to the pier to learn how to vogue, training their children in their houses at the pier. I guess it's just a very seasonal thing because when it's cold, it's not a party at the pier. But yeah, it's definitely still a thing. I would love to go back to the pier, but I've definitely outgrown it. I'm a grown woman. Grown fish.

Besides the pier, is there a special spot in New York that you hold close to your heart?

My old dance studio. That's where a lot of things ignited for me as an artist and creative. It's called Dance Atlantic. It's literally three blocks away from my home. I hold that place very close to me. The owner at the time was aware that it was very hard for my father to get a job, considering that he's not a US citizen. So it was also a very hard time for my family to get money. The studio owner allowed me to come to her studio and take classes for free and just be a part of it. It made her happy. She was a very kind woman and cared about my dreams and aspirations. Without her, I don't think I would have been on this journey.

It seems like you were very much out and about doing stuff in New York. How online were you? Were you an internet kid at all?

I definitely wasn't an internet kid. I just wasn't the kind of person that was constantly posting and making content, even until this day. I'm still not that bitch. I'm not the person that's going to reveal so much about my life on social media. But I was definitely a Vine girl, a Dubsmash girl. I was a TikTok girl before there was a TikTok. Like, the girls were dancing to music on Dubsmash and Vine. And that's actually how I started getting a bit of clout on social media because I was dancing to all these songs that people weren't expecting me to dance to. It'd be dancehall and afrobeats. But yeah, I was definitely an Instagram girly, too.

I think the court hearing is today on if they're gonna ban TikTok or not.

I’m so excited! I hate TikTok.

Why do you hate it?

I feel like TikTok has really damaged the art of creativity, especially for artists. Now we're forced to create this content for social media, and it's not personal anymore. I have to be giving so much of my life that I don't need to give. Even if it's being creative or being funny on social media. I'm just not that type of person to pick up my phone every day and just give so much to social media. And I feel like even now brands are requesting to post on TikTok because you need numbers and you need engagement, and it's just like, Whatever happened to loving what I do? It's just forced to me.

I'm on the same page.

If we ban TikTok, people are gonna get back into their bags, back into creativity. Ban AI and all the bullshit. Everything's been watered down. And everything is very robotic. I hate it.

The other day, I got back into Yanis Marshall’s videos on YouTube.

I love Yanis Marshall.

I started watching his old videos again. Because I was like, this was such a golden era for choreography. The early 2010s.

Golden. I remember watching the video of Yanis Marshall dancing to “Telepathy.” That was my first time seeing a drag artist, in his classes, and everything just felt so free. I used to watch that as a kid all the time. I guess you can say that's what I was on social media for: watching Danielle Polanco and Yanis Marshall — all these dance creators post five minute videos of just creativity. It was just raw content, raw talent. I was obsessed with that growing up.

Yeah, it's like you wanted to be in that studio with them.

Oh my god. When I moved to LA and danced in that studio, it was a dream come true.

What do you think about the current state of ballroom, in New York specifically? I know you've personally been through different phases. You were a Labeija and in different houses. What is your read on the sort of mainstream-ification of ballroom even within the past two years?

I think there are a lot of pros and cons to ballroom being so mainstream, but I feel like the cons more so outweigh the pros. Because it's so mainstream now, people that aren’t a part of this culture have an opinion on what is and what isn't good for the culture. Just because they learned from home, they think that their opinions and that their judgments should matter, as if they're on the panel giving the turns. But in reality, they're watching from home. It’s just a lot, especially for social media purposes. I just hate the opinions that don't come from inside the club, when you're outside the club trying to get in.

But I will say, the attention and the love of ballroom, and how it's so publicized now, is a beautiful thing. It's allowed a lot of people, especially black trans women and trans women and other gender-identifying people, opportunities to get jobs and share their talents with the world. It has given us shows like Pose, and people have an idea of what it is, what the reality is for some of us. And I think it's a beautiful thing.

You have to pay your dues.

Yeah, and I think because I'm in both worlds, the ballroom scene and in the industry, I can see both sides of the story. I guess there's just more respect for us, even on sets and stuff. There's just more respect toward the culture now.

What's like the most out of body experience you've had in everything you've done?

I think the only out of body experience I've had is sharing the stage with Beyonce. I remember one day I was doing this dip in front of her where I duck walk around, and I land in front of her. Every night, I would take a couple breaths before that trick, and I would just be in the moment and paint this picture of her in my head. I just wanted to scan the moment and make sure that it's embedded in my body and mind forever because I'm really onstage in front of the biggest artist in the world, sharing this moment with her. Not only are people seeing her, but they're seeing me right in front of her doing this crazy ass stunt. And she's following through with the stunt. The fact that I'm the only person Beyonce has ever snapped her dip to, like, that's fab.

When you're onstage, do you blackout or do you remember every single second?

When I go on stage, I blackout, and something takes over. I do all this crazy shit that I’ve never practiced before, and it just comes out naturally. Usually, it works out. If it doesn't work out, I come back and try again. But when I've rehearsed and practiced all these things, it just doesn't work out very well, so I just let the beast inside of me take over. I let it create whatever magic it needs to create.

Besides Beyonce, who was your number one pop girl growing up?

Lady Gaga was my girl. Britney Spears was my girl. Paris Hilton was my other girl. Of course, Beyonce, but we're not gonna mention her because it already happened.

It’s crazy that now you’re kind of in her position. You're sharing the same stage as your idols.

It feels almost godly, almost like there's an energy that surrounds you, that sucks into you. And it just takes you over your whole body.

It's religion.

Yeah, it's a religion. Even that cat moment that everyone went so fucking hype about, I was not practicing that at all. I realized that some nights when I was wearing black, I was just feeling very feline, and I named that persona. I named that energy. I called her Alice because it gave me Alice in Wonderland — a dark cat with magic. So I was like, you know what? I'm gonna name this persona.

Tell me about this shoot, and the title, "Automata."

I've been calling it my album. I have a bunch of notes because I was gonna be ready for this interview. Let me read it to you: "She's a mechanical doll in a monotonous world. In a society dominated by technology, Honey the Automaton recognizes the importance of human connection and their purpose. She is not to be controlled by external forces, but to find her own autonomy.” So I'm finding my own routine now, and I'm finding how important it is to connect with people — not just relying on technology to do the work for themselves, because that's what everything is becoming. Everything's becoming AI. Everything's becoming technology. We're losing the humanity of everything, and we're just becoming robots at this point. So an automaton is a robot, which is why I call it Automata. It’s a robot that has its routine, and it's strictly that routine. And it'll only be that routine until its job is done.

And like I said, humanity is undergoing a transformation. Only in the life I create for myself, I can be understood. So anyone is free to attribute any qualities onto me that their mind desires. I don't care to be entangled in their thoughts, because my essence and my pureness is separate from their perception and this reality. Everything that you may think I am, everything you may want me to be, you can put that onto me, but it's not reality. It's not who you think I am, because you only see me through a screen. So that's what I wanted Automata to be about for my second episode, because I'm dropping five episodes in this series.

Reminds me of Sasha Fierce in a way.

Yes, she inspired a lot of my creativity now. I just learned so much from being on stage with her. I feel unstoppable. I feel like my own creative genius now, and I don't want to stop.

She probably rubbed off on you.

Definitely. I started this project, because I wanted to remind people that I don't need to owe anything to the public. Well, first of all, dancers themselves are always overlooked. We are creating the art for another person, and we're never the person that is the center of attention. And I love being the center of attention. So I was like, You know what, I'm gonna drop my own album. It doesn't need to be songs. It doesn't need to be any of that. I'm a dancer, my album was going to be a visual album. And I just thought it was so important to just be able to tell my story and release my album on my own terms and share my experiences and share what I've been through. And it doesn't need to be with words because my emotion and dance can convey that. That's why all this was important to me and shooting this with Devin was amazing. I'm glad he understood the project so well.

Photography: Devin Fearrington
Styling: Nathan Sweet
Makeup: Sterling Tull
Hair: Cassie Carey
Nails: Stephanie Hernandez
Photography assistant: Jeremy Xavier
Styling assistant: @childish.sambin0_
Talent: Honey Gonzalez