Ballroom 101, the far-reaching impact beyond ‘Legendary’ and ‘Pose’

Add this share
The basics of an often sidelined or co-opted black queer subculture that takes us from from Legendary to Pose with influences that – spoiler! – have nothing to do with Madonna’s ‘Vogue.’

Houses

Serve as alternative families and safe spaces for primarily black and Latinx LGBTQ people. In many cases, sharing the same last name and physical living spaces, including older folks “parenting” younger ones. Iconic houses include but are in no way limited to LaBeija, Balenciaga, Aviance and Xtravaganza.

History

Members of the LGBTQ underground in large cities of the late 19th century began to organize masquerade balls known as “drags” in direct defiance of laws banning citizens from wearing clothes of the opposite gender. Langston Hughes wrote of drag balls in the 1920s. The balls and house of today became more organized in 1950s Harlem and popularized in the 1980s. Parallel developments were taking place in Washington, D.C., and expanding today into places including Francisco, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Dance

Intentionally or not, Madonna’s song “Vogue” began a colonization of the modeling-posing dance style rooted specifically in queer communities of color and named for the fashion magazine. Choreographer Will Ninja, who died in 2006, is known as “The Godfather of Vogue” for formalizing and promoting the dance’s signature staccato movements and poses.

Competition

Houses “walk” against each other dressed according to categories and are judged on dance skills, costumes, appearance and attitude. Participants are expected to display appropriate “realness” to the category.

Categories

Competitors walk in categories including Butch Queen, Femme Realness, Runway, Bizarre, Face, Body, Hands, Virgin Vogue, Sex Siren, Banjee, Opulence, Best Dressed and Legendary Icon.

Language

Terms rooted in ball culture that have gone on to become staples in gay slang, drag slang, fashion industry jargon and even mainstream colloquial usage include drag mother, work it, fierceness, fabulousness, shade, yas, mopping, swag, bling, ovah and ovahness, and RuPaul’s signature taglines “Sashay,” “Chante” and “Chante You Stay.”

Music

Ball culture has been fertile ground for new forms of House music and other genres of electronic dance music. It has also launched a wave of queer Hip Hop artists and DJs.

Fashion

1980s ball culture is credited for influencing the über-sexualized cockiness and showy jewelry of contemporary mainstream Hip Hop.

Entertainment

Beyonce credits ball culture as an unsung part of black American culture in Houston that directly influenced the “confidence and fire” of her stage act.

Media Attention

Paris Is Burning in 1991 set ballroom on the road to global recognition. Since then, innumerable news stories in print and broadcast. Other notable coverage includes the docuseries My House on Viceland, the film Kiki, HBO’s reality competition Legendary, and the TV show Pose on FX.

Sources: Revolvy.com, Trans Bodies Trans Selves by Genny Beemyn, Global Circuits of Blackness by Marlon Bailey. 

Photo from the film Kiki.

This feature also ran in Q ATLus Magazine. Read the latest issue here:

Find us each week at LGBTQ and allied venues, and find new content here every day.

THE LATEST

Gay Atlanta apparel retailer ABETTERBUZZ debuts first physical store

Popular gay-owned online store ABETTERBUZZ Brand Goods reached a milestone this month with the opening of its first brick-and-mortar store. ABETTERBUZZ was one of three...

HHS funds inject millions into Georgia’s HIV battle

The federal government awarded over $1 million to three Georgia health clinics last month to expand HIV prevention, treatment, outreach and care. The grants from the...

Longterm love, short-term disagreements and queer life passing you by

Whether it's longterm love, short term disagreements or queer life passing you by in the closet, everyone encounters moments when what they thought was, well, thought wrong. The Q offers advice.

Georgia Equality endorses seven LGBTQ candidates in local races

Georgia Equality weighed in with endorsements in several municipal races as early voting continues and Election Day approaches on Nov. 2. The endorsements also...

The best LGBTQ things to do in Atlanta this weekend

Kiss the weekend hello with LGBTQ events everywhere you turn. Even with a full week to go, Halloween creatures are already stirring as well. Keep...
17,446FansLike
7,001FollowersFollow
7,682FollowersFollow

PHOTO GALLERIES