What’s your favorite place in the world? For queer folks, this question can hold a lot of weight. In a world that’s still in the process of learning acceptance, it must be a space that embraces the celebration of identity and individuality. It’s the physical proof that you belong in this world and your existence matters.
For the launch of Preen Admit One, we’re celebrating found families with a screening of writer and director Alexandra Cuerdo’s “Dancing On My Own,” a love letter to the queer Asian experience inspired by New York’s radical dance party Bubble_T. Preen Admit One is our exclusive movie screening series for films with narratives that matter to our progressive audience.
Featuring interviews with the party’s regulars, the film gives us a glimpse into the lives of its founders Nicholas Valite Andersen, Karlo Bueno Bello, Stevie Huynh, Paul Tran and Pedro Balneg Vidallon Jr.—as well as the creatives who call it home such as Filipina drag queen Slayrizz. Get limited exclusive access to “Dancing On My Own” from Oct. 3 to Oct. 5 by using the passcode DOMOPREEN on our Vimeo link.
Before the premiere, we sat down with Cuerdo to talk about the colorful world of Bubble_T’s #slaysians, her own coming out story and how it was to work with the legendary Princess Punzalan.
How does it feel to have your love letter to the queer Asian-American community be recognized by people who aren’t part of it?
“Dancing On My Own” was such a personal journey. It started with my friends, the founders of Bubble_T, a dance party in New York that centers on queer Asians’ nightlife. And it ended with me coming out to my mom on camera. What a wild ride!
Showing your work to a bunch of strangers at a festival, especially deeply personal work, is always such a rush. It’s a great feeling, but it’s also a little scary. That’s usually how I know I’ve hit on something real. In a world filled with constant disinformation, it’s incredibly rewarding to direct and write something honest and true. “Dancing On My Own,” in a way, was my response to the world today. To me, the film is a statement that says: This is us. This is how we live, how we love, and that deserves to be celebrated.
What’s the story behind the making of this film?
I wanted to make this film as a documentation of the queer Asian community we’ve built in New York. Back then, we had no idea COVID-19 would change the way we interact with the world. Back then, nightlife was a way to create a safe space—a community that was truly for us, and by us. Bubble_T came out of that longing. Post-election, I felt like we were all searching for that feeling of safety and belonging. Bubble_T was the way I found that.
My friend Pedro, one of the founders of Bubble_T, brought me to my first party back in 2016. And I was hooked. It was the most queer Asians I had seen in a single space. It was beautiful. It felt like [seeing] what heaven looks like. So I knew, even then, [that] I wanted to create something—a tribute to the community, a thank you. And so this film was my love letter to the queer Asian community that sheltered me, the chosen family that I’m so lucky to call home.
In 2019, I received the VSCO Voices Artist Grant for film and photography, which financed the film. During the grant process, one of my advisors challenged me—[they] asked why I wasn’t in the film. Bubble_T changed my life. Wasn’t that part of the story?
That night, I went home to my parents’ house. And for the first time, since I was 16, I talked to my mom about my sexual orientation. I had her read my pitch for this film. I was so, so nervous. I remember my hands were shaking. She was quiet for a long time. And then, she said, “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. You know, no matter what, I will always love you.” And I turned to her, and I said, “That’s what I’ve been missing all along.” On the spot, she agreed to be in the film. It just made sense. We came together, and healed our relationship, because of this film.
Bubble_T has become a household name in New York, but can you describe it for us?
It’s my favorite place in the world. Imagine its brightly colored streamers, refracting the light into a thousand points. Imagine the most beautiful, stunning, talented drag queens, stalking across the stage like they were born to be there. Imagine the most banging music from DJs all over the world.
It’s an event, a moment, our place in history. When it’s safe to travel again, you’re all invited! To experience Bubble_T, you’ve just got to be there.
What was something that the founders of Bubble_T said in the film that stuck with you the most?
The moment that Stevie, one of my close friends, recounted his coming out story. He was talking to his brother, who was trying to put into words why their mom was having such a hard time accepting his sexuality. He said, “It’s like learning to drive a car. It’s her first time.”
To me, that hit home. When I was 16, I came out to my mom in the car [while] I was learning [how] to drive. Realizing that a parent could feel that fear—of not knowing, of feeling like you did something wrong, of panic—about their gay child, that was heartbreaking.
At 16, all I wanted was a hug [and] for my mom to set aside those feelings—just respond with open arms, with acceptance, and love. Hopefully, this film can help families understand that being gay, queer or LGBTQ-identified is just as normal and acceptable as being straight. No matter how you identify, know this: we all want to be loved and we all deserve love. It’s as simple as that.
Bubble_T was partly a product of experiencing racism in the dating scene and the lack of queer spaces for Asians in New York. Has this changed?
Yes and no. It’s a constant effort to push for education and representation, especially in our current political climate. Hopefully, communities and spaces like Bubble_T can help in those efforts by providing a rejuvenating safe space for queer Asians in New York and by representing Asians in the wider LGBT mainstream.
Can you share with us some of your favorite artists in the film and why you love their work?
There are truly too many to count! One I [would like to] mention, in particular, is the absolute badass queen that is Slayrizz, the Filipina princess. I can’t tell you how loud I’ve screamed at her shows. She is 100% fabulous, a gifted performer, a talented singer and a true star. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
What are your thoughts on how some regulars are worried that Bubble_T is getting gentrified?
The motto of Bubble_T is “where Asians rule but everyone is welcome.” Bubble_T always centers the Asian community at each event. Whether it’s in booking DJs or taking photos, the community is keenly aware of representing the crowd and the talent onstage as such. It helps to know too that all the decision-makers are Asian-Americans fighting for what we believe in.
What’s your advice for queer Asian kids and their Asian parents who want to become closer to each other?
Set aside your opinions and put love first. That’s what matters at the end of the day. I’m so happy my mom and I healed our relationship. It took a lot of work and a lot of patience, but it’s so, so worth it!
What was it like working with Princess Punzalan for this film?
Princess is amazing! What a dream to work with such a talent. Princess is a true pro. We knocked out her whole scene in half a day. I was very lucky she was available for this project. We met through my dad, who produced a film with her called “Yellow Rose.” Shameless plug, it’s going to be the first-ever Filipino-American film distributed by a major studio and it’s coming out this October! Princess was so unbelievably good in that film, which was masterfully directed by my friend Diane Paragas. As soon as I saw Princess’ performance, I knew it had to be her.
I’m so grateful to have published my first book “AMBOY: Recipes From the Filipino-American Dream” with my good friend Alvin Cailan, the famed Filipino-American chef. We’re on our (virtual) book tour right now! I’m also directing an exciting new show with the queen herself, Ms. Meryl Streep! Stay tuned on my Instagram. I’ll be posting updates and fun stuff there.
Don’t miss out on the chance to laugh and cry with the Bubble_T family by joining our exclusive screening.