Ball culture

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Imperial Court System Grand Duchess and Duke XVIII Vivian Lee St. Michael and Ken St. Michael of the Royal Grand Ducal of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, California

Ball culture, the house system, the ballroom community and similar terms describe an underground LGBT subculture in the United States in which people "walk" (i.e. compete) for trophies and prizes at events known as balls. Some who walk also dance; others compete in drag genres, trying to pass as a gender and social class. Most participants in ball culture belong to groups known as "houses".[1][2][3]

Houses[edit]

Houses, also called "families", are LGBTQ groups which band together under a "house mother" (sometimes a drag queen or transgender person) or "house father".[1][4] According to Bailey (2013), the gender system is a collection of gender and sexual subjectivities that extend beyond the binary categories of dominant society such as male/female, gay/lesbian, man/woman etc. A member chooses to identify with a certain category based on their walk (performance). This system includes six categories: Butch Queens, Femme Queens, Butch Queens up in Drag, Butches, Women, Men and house parents. Those in the women category are primarily straight, feminine lesbians or queer. Overall, the gender system does not completely break from the hegemonic norms of sex, gender and sexuality, but it offers more gender and sexual identities from which to choose.The gender system specially serves to define what role members play in the house. According to Arnold & Bailey (2009) in Ballroom culture, houses, are kinship structures that are configured socially rather than biologically. The purpose is to provide a home or gathering place for members. In these houses, such members serve as 'mothers' or 'fathers,' in other words, house parents. The purpose of house parents is to provide guidance for their 'children' of various ages, race, and ethnic background. For example, house mothers perform some of the same 'motherly qualities' such as cooking, cleaning, and being nurturing. On the other hand, house fathers typically serve as the mentors of their 'children.' They provide guidance, uphold the house reputation, and serve as authority figures. For the most part, the division of labor for house parents is very much alike to heteronormative gender roles

Houses Status
Allure Closed
Andrews Active
Aviance Active
Balenciaga Active
(Manolo) Blahnik Active
Chanel International Active
Cheney (Berkeley,CA) Active
Christian Active
Diore Active
Dharma Active
DuPree Active
Ebony Active
Escada Active
Existence Active
Garcon Active
Givenchy Active
Infiniti Active
Icon Active
Cavalli Active
Karan Active
Khan Active
LaBeija Active
(Xclusive) LanVin Active
LaPerla Active
Lauren Active
Legacy International Closed
Lords Active
Milan Active
Miyaki-Mugler Active
Mizrahi Active
Ninja Active
Omni Active
Paciotti Active
Prada Active
Prestige Active
Prodigy Active
Pend'avis Active
Revlon Active
Richards Closed
Ronee Active
St. Laurent Active
Tsunami Active
Versace Active
Vuitton Active
Xtravaganza Active

The houses listed above appeared in the 1990 documentary film, Paris Is Burning. Houses across the United States are similar to each other, with most in major cities on the East Coast, the Midwest and the South (House Of Infiniti, House of Mizrahi, House of Aviance and House of Overness).[2][5][6][7]

Other LGBTQ-based families which use the term "house" in their community are neither ball nor pageant houses. Some were created under the Imperial Court System (ICS, founded in California in 1965 with chapters throughout North America), ranging from royal-dynasty-based families (such as the House of St. James) to non-denominational houses (such as the Imperial House of Black, with headquarters in Virginia and chapters throughout the US, Canada, South Africa, Asia and Europe.[8][9][10]

According to the Village Voice:

 ...houses are loose-knit, typically same sex, confederacies of "children" who adopt a family name, usually swiped from a fashion designer, and adhere to rules set up by a presiding "mother" and "father".[11]

Members of the house led by Willi Ninja, for example, adopt Ninja as their surname; members of the house led by Angie Xtravaganza used the surname "Xtravaganza", and members of the house led by Avis Pendavis use the surname Pendavis.[5][12][13] One theme in Paris Is Burning is that people of color, queers and poor people face disadvantages as marginalized groups; to identify as all three may make one an outcast. Drag houses are:

...a whole new way of living, one that's highly structured and self-protective. The structure consists of system of houses where the young men function as apprentices. Reflecting a minority coping with hatred, the houses are associations of friends, presided over by a "mother", [...] that provide a substitute for biological families.[4]

Living under the "house parents" are:

...a big raucous band of "children": drag queens, butch queens, transsexuals—mostly MTF but some FTM, a few non-trans girls and one or two straight guys. The smattering of girls and straight guys notwithstanding, the houses are, essentially, cabals of young black and Hispanic men obsessed with being fashionable and fabulous.[14]

House parents can provide wisdom, guidance and care for young people who otherwise might be homeless. A study of two houses in Newark, New Jersey used qualitative research methods (including participant observation and in-depth interviews):

Strategies employed by "house parents" have had an impact on the choices made by children of the houses regarding HIV risk behaviors. These strategies can be adapted for use by well-established community-based HIV prevention programs when they are comprised of staff who mirror the characteristics of "house parents" and engage in relationships that parallel this alternative family structure.[1]

Kevin Aviance, who appeared in Flawless, The Tyra Banks Show and America's Next Top Model, is a member of the House of Aviance founded 1989 in Washington, D.C.[15][16]

Competition[edit]

In addition to providing a support system for their members, the houses "walk" (compete) against one another in "balls" judged on dance skills, costumes, appearance and attitude. Participants dress according to category in which they are competing, and are expected to display appropriate "realness".[4]

Dominated by hip hop fashion and music, these events are:

...a tradition dating back to the 19th century and going strong into the 21st. Balls continue to be held in bars or Masonic halls or other improbable venues. Across the country and throughout the five boroughs legends are still being born.[11]

Although some competitive walks involve crossdressing, in other cases the goal is to accentuate a male participant's masculinity or a female participant's femininity as a parody of heterosexuality.[4]

Categories[edit]

  • Butch Queen Vogue Fem/Female Figure Performance – Use the vogue elements of hands, catwalk, duckwalk, floor performance, spins and dips
  • BQ Realness – Judged on participants' ability to blend in with male heterosexuals
  • FQ Realness – Judged on participants' ability to blend in with female heterosexuals
  • Realness With a Twist (Twister) – Judged on participants' ability to blend in with heterosexuals, returning in vogue
  • BQ/FQ/FF Runway – Judged on participants' ability to catwalk, usually with a requested outfit or color
  • Bizarre – Judged on participants' creativity to design a costume based on a requested category
  • Labels – Judged on how many labels a participant is wearing and their authenticity
  • BQ/FQ/FF Face – Judging a participant's clean, smooth face
  • BQ/FQ/FF Sex Siren – Sex appeal in underwear (thongs, briefs or bikinis)
  • Commentator vs. Commentator – Allows aspiring (and current) MCs to showcase their ability to hype the crowd
  • Dipology – Like Vogue Femme, with spins into dips only
  • European Runway – Often a butch-queen category, featuring effects seen in a European fashion show
  • American Runway – Similar to European Runway, featuring butch queen, TransMen or Butches/Studs
  • Butch Queen up in Pumps – Similar to Labels or Runway, featuring high heels
  • FQ/BQ in Drag Female Figure Performance – Lip-synching to a female celebrity
  • Hands Performance – Vogue with hands only
  • Virgin/Beginners Vogue – Vogue category for participants who have been voguing for less than one year
  • Virgin/Beginners Runway – Runway for participants who have been walking for less than one year
  • Best Dressed
  • Legendary/Iconic Categories – All-star categories for legends and Icons only
  • Women's Vogue – Women Who Vogue All Around The World[clarification needed]

One participant wrote:

There is more to the ballroom scene than chopping, mopping, "fierceness" and shade; and there is more to vogueing than striking a pose. Drag is a form of control. By looking good one can feel good. By looking powerful, one can feel powerful. One can be powerful. Therefore, beauty begets control. Artifice equals power ... Then again, it may just be a bunch of bitches competing for trophies. Either way, its fun. There is of course a distinction between the casual runway that would erupt at a "normal" club, and the formal runway of a ball, where there are judges and prizes and actual vogueing.[17]

The largest balls last as long as ten hours, with dozens of categories in a single evening. With fewer spectators, nearly everyone comes to compete; some trophies are 12 feet (3.7 m) tall, and a grand-prize winner can earn $1,000 or more.[14]

Performance[edit]

According to Bailey (2011), LGBTQ black youth are often forced out of their home or choose to leave because their own biological families do not accept them. In addition, Black LGBTQ youth are also largely excluded from marginalized gay spaces, such as gay neighborhoods, bars and clubs that are labeled as white. It is then that the ballroom community serves as a spatial practice of possibilities for these youth. By using performance, marginalized LGBT youth carve out and transform normative geographies into spaces of common celebration, affirmation, and support. Moreover, it is through the social configuration of the house, the kinship system in the community, that provides the labor that biological families and homes are unable to do. Drawing from Sonjah Stanley Niaah (2008), performance geography highlights the way that people living in particular locations use strategies of performance not only to survive the challenges of urban life, but also to transform and give new meaning to location. For ballroom communities, performance is the interconnection between the social configuration of the house and the ball events that the house organizes. It is through performance that members of the community claim space to forge alternative possibilities for themselves that they otherwise won't find in other spaces.

Runway[edit]

Within the runway, there are various forms of performance in which performers are judged on such as 'voguing,' runaway walking and other categories. Voguing started as drag pageants, but has now expanded to include specific categories:

  • Reading: to read a person is to highlight and exaggerate all of the flaws of a person, from their ridiculous clothes, to their flawed makeup and anything else the reader can come up with. It is a battle of wit, in which the winner is one who gets the crowd to laugh the most.
  • Shade: shade is an art form that developed from Reading. Rather than the aim to insult, someone works with the medium of backhanded compliments. An example is to suggest that someone's beautiful dress makes people almost forget that she has a five o'clock shadow (House of Nuance).

The Vogue form of dance can be broken into five different components that can be used in a ball:

  • Duckwalk: The duck walk is similar to Russian folk dancing in that it involves squatting on your heels and kicking your feet out as you move forward on the beat.
  • Catwalk: Catwalking is an exaggerated feminine walk where the legs are crossed over each other, the hips are thrust from side to side, and the hands are thrown forward in opposition to the legs.
  • Hands: In performance, the hands of the performer often told a story. This is the component of performing used to throw shade. For example miming an expression of horror at the way the opponents face looks.
  • Floorwork: This component demonstrates the competitors' sensuality as they roll, twist, and otherwise move on the ground in such a way as to capture the attention of the judges.
  • Spins and Dips: This is the showiest component of vogue. These are the turns on beat, and the drops to the floor. A spin or dip is only done correctly when it executed with the climax happening on the beat (House of Nuance).

Another component of performance is the Runway. There are two types of runway walking:

  • All-American Runway: This form of runway accentuates all the masculine qualities of the model. In general, this walk requires the model to walk with their feet shoulder width apart and with very little in the way of dramatics (House of Nuance).
  • European Runway: In European runway, the model exaggerates the feminine. Often competitors will walk in high heels though this is not a requirement of the category. European allows for dramatics, which is to say responding to competitors and the environment (House of Nuance).

In addition to runway and components of the actual performance, members of the ball scene are judged on various other categories:

  • Realness: This category of realness comes from a time when blending in with heterosexuals, or "passing", was a key component of gay life. The challenge of this category is to present yourself as heterosexual as you can project. There are three types of realness: Thug, Executive, and Schoolboy.
    • Thug: To project an image of a straight, tough man who is a touch aggressive.
    • Executive: To be a straight executive: powerful, wealthy and dominant.
    • Schoolboy: Youthful and intelligent, the typical "school-yard" look.
  • Face: The face category is about who has a classically beautiful face. Judges examine the eyes, the nose, the teeth, the lips and the structure of the face. While the category may call for an effect, ultimately the judges will only look at the face of a competitor, which should not have much makeup and should appear flawless.
  • Body: This category is about health. The judges will be looking for someone who looks attractive, and healthy. Do not confuse this with sexiness, as there is a completely different category for that.
  • Sex Siren: Participants will do their best to tease, and titillate the judges. Some do so by stripping all their clothes off, others do it through erotic dancing, and some combine the two in order to attempt to win (House of Nuance).

History[edit]

As a countercultural phenomenon, ball culture is rooted in necessity and defiance. The ballroom culture has existed for at least five decades. However, it remains largely underground and unknown for this particular community of blacks and Latinos/as. It began in Harlem more than 50 years ago, and has now expanded rapidly to other major cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia.[citation needed] Moreover, with the advancements of social media, it has migrated to other countries such as Canada, Japan, and the UK (Bailey, 2013).[citation needed] Ball culture also known as "house ball culture," was first captured in Jennie Livingston's documentary, Paris is Burning (1990).


New York City[edit]

As told by Pulitzer Prizewinning author Michael Cunningham, New York City's ball culture is the product of:

...the underground drag balls that had been going on in and around New York City since the thirties. Those balls were merely drag fashion shows staged by white men two or three times a year in gay bars, with prizes given for the most outrageous costumes. Black queens sometimes showed up but they were expected to whiten their faces and they rarely won a prize.[14]

During the 1960s black drag queens began hosting events in Harlem, where they took the concept to:

...heights undreamed of by the little gangs of white men parading around in frocks in basement taverns. In a burst of liberated zeal they rented big places like the Elks Lodge on 160 West 129th Street, and they turned up in dresses Madame Pompadour herself might have thought twice about. Word spread around Harlem that a retinue of drag queens was putting together outfits bigger and grander than Rose Parade floats, and the balls began to attract spectators, first by the dozens and then by the hundreds, gay and straight alike. People brought liquor with them, sandwiches, buckets of chicken. As the audiences grew, the queens gave them more and more for their money. Cleopatra on her barge, all in gold lamé, with a half dozen attendants waving white, glittering palm fronds. Faux fashion models in feathered coats lined with mylar, so that when the coat was thrown open and a two-thousand-watt incandescent lamp suddenly lit, the people in the first few rows were blinded for minutes afterward.[14]

Participants in these balls split into factions led by influential, charismatic figures:

In 1977 an imperious, elegant queen named Crystal LaBeija announced that a ball she'd helped put together was being given by the House of LaBeija, as in House of Chanel or House of Dior. It was a p.r. gimmick, something to add a little more panache and, not incidentally, to increase the luster of Crystal LaBeija. The concept caught on, and suddenly every ball was being given by a house. Some queens named their house after themselves, like Avis Pendavis' House of Pendavis or Dorian Corey's House of Corey. Others took the names of established designers like Chanel or St. Laurent. [...] By the early eighties younger, less experienced drag queens were declaring themselves members of this house or that house, and competing in balls under the house name. Some went to court and had their last names legally changed, to Pendavis or Corey or Chanel or St. Laurent. [...] Houses came to be ruled by their biggest stars, who were known as mothers and who exhorted their members—their children—to accumulate as many prizes as possible for the greater glory of the house.[14]

In 1989, The House of Latex was created as a call to action in the ballroom community to bridge the gap between HIV-STI prevention and ballroom culture. The best-known House of Latex leaders were Arbert Santana Latex/Evisu, who died on March 3, 2011 (Big Boys Runway), and Aisha Diori Latex/Prodigy (Legendary Women's Face); both educated, provided a safe space and inspired lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth of color involved in the ball scene.

Born in a 1989 collaboration between GMHC and members of the ballroom community concerned about the increase of HIV and AIDS in the ball scene, the House of Latex was committed to outreach and prevention (primarily among LGBT youth of African American and Latino descent) for over 20 years. The name "Latex" was bestowed by the community because one of the house's primary functions is to distribute condoms at balls and other events. Most other houses are named after designers or community members. HOL became an official "house" in 1993, and held its first annual ball (which developed into one of the largest events in the New York City ballroom community).

A memorable Latex Ball theme was "The Latrix", a pun on The Matrix. Aisha Latex Prodigy, founder of the WBT House of Iman, explained that the theme was chosen because the film's day-to-day "reality" is a façade created by machines controlling the real world. This relationship, she said, parallels public attitudes toward the "machines" of HIV and AIDS (instead of fighting back, with prevention and education). Truth is denied, and the disease's authority is passively accepted. The Latrix, the evening's program explained, allowed members of the ballroom community to tackle issues such as racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, HIV and AIDS by competing and sharing their talents and creativity with the community. "Our chances lie in the acknowledgement of these issues," the program read. "If we free our whole community we can survive. There is hope." "The House of Latex works in partnerships", stressed Arbert Santana. "Our partnerships with other agencies are very important."[citation needed] HOL's partners include People of Color in Crisis and Gay Men of African Descent, who were present to distribute literature and safe-sex packets. The David Geffen Testing Center at GMHC provided free HIV testing.

In addition to its annual ball, HOL "walks" balls throughout the year, handing out educational pamphlets and safe-sex packets; does outreach on the streets and in clubs, and provides peer space for LGBTQ youth by holding discussion groups, or "House Talk," twice a month. Santana explained that HOL specifically focuses on youth of color between the ages of 15 and 25: "If we are able to provide intervention at an earlier age, we can stop the spread of HIV and AIDS." The House of Latex has changed its direction from a walking house to a service and drop-in resource for the LGBTQ house ballroom community since Aisha Latex implemented the KiKi Ballroom initiative, targeted at LGBTQ youth and young adults in the mainstream ballroom scene. The Kiki ballroom scene is being replicated nationwide by a number of community organizations.

Washington, D.C.[edit]

This account from the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area describes how ball culture and drag houses developed about 1960:

Some regular house parties became institutionalized as drag "houses" and "families." The leader, or "mother," often provided not only the opportunity for parties but also instruction and mentoring in the arts of make-up, selecting clothes, lip-synching, portraying a personality, walking, and related skills. Those taught became "drag daughters," who in turn mentored others, creating entire "drag families." Drag houses became the first social support groups in the city's gay and lesbian community. House names often came from addresses of the house 'mother', such as Mother Billy Bonhill's Belmont House at 15th and Belmont NW, or associations with the "mother's" chosen personality, as Mame Dennis's Beekman Place.[2]

The dance styles which later characterized drag houses had not been developed; competitions between houses involved standard drag performances in which entertainers lip-synced or, rarely, sang. In contrast to the New York houses in Paris Is Burning, some of the Washington, D.C. house mothers were white. However, African-American drag queens were a prominent part of the community:

Venues for drag shows and competitions were a constant challenge in the 1960s. The Uptown Lounge sponsored monthly drag contests, an event later duplicated at Johnnie's on Capitol Hill. Chunga's drag shows at the Golden Key Club in North Beach, Maryland were a popular Sunday event. The major hotels' resistance to drag events was not broken until February 1968 when African-American drag impresario Black Pearl staged the gala Black Pearl International Awards at the Washington Hilton. It was the drag event of the year.[2]

The Washington, D.C. ball community consists primarily of African-American and Latino participants, and has adopted many attributes seen in Paris Is Burning. Nineteen-sixties-style drag shows and competitions still exist, with their own audience. Ball patrons will find similar categories (such as "banjee thug realness" and "vogue") as an audience member.

The Washington ballroom scene was founded in 1986 by Icon Lowell Adonis-Khanh (Lowell Thomas Hickman) and Icon Eric Christian-Bazaar. During the 1990s, more houses appeared in the area due to the efforts of Twain Miyake-Mugler ("father" of the House of Miyake Mugler, D.C. Chapter), Legendary Shannon Garcon and Legendary Whitney Garcon (founders of the House of Garcon and charter members of The Legendary House of Miyake-Mugler, D.C. Chapter).[18] The city hosts a series of annual balls, in which contestants compete for trophies and cash prizes.

Houses in the D.C. area include the House of Khanh,[19] the House of Balenciaga,[20] the House of Comme des Garcon,[21] the House of Miyake Mugler,[22] House of Ebony,[23] the House of Milan,[24] the House of Evisu,[25] the House of Prodigy,[26] the House of Revlon, the House of Allure,[27] the House of Manolo Blahnik[28] and the House of Xcellence. Kevin Aviance, whose appearances include Flawless, The Tyra Banks Show and America's Next Top Model, is a member of the House of Aviance (founded in 1989).[15][16]

Self identity and presentation[edit]

Additionally, in the article Identity of Self-Presentation in the House/Ball Culture: A Primer of Social Workers Diana Rowan examines and analyzes of the concepts of identity and self-presentation of members in the house/ball community and how these concepts aid in preventing HIV/AIDS. Rowan states that the Ballroom community has multiple intersecting risk factors for oppression, specifically race and youth, which is why social workers take a particular interest in this community. Social workers have coined the term, MSM, men who have sex with men to describe the sexual behaviors that people of the Ballroom community exhibit and which they believe leads to the increased risk of HIV. It is noted that many of the participants in Ballroom houses don't identify as gay, but exhibit MSM behavior. For social workers who work with the Ballroom community this serves as a problem because their main job is to facilitate a healthy and safe environment for all Ballroom participants, but if the participants aren't being completely honest about their sexual identity in their daily lives, they are worried that such people are capable of carrying and hiding/de-emphasizing the disease of HIV.

Social workers in the Ballroom community state that over-dramatized self-presentation of Ball participants is what leads to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the community. Rowan and the social workers describe the Ball community as a familial structure based on materiality as much as unity between black queer youth. Many of the Ball houses are named after famous fashion designers (House of Chanel, House of Manolo-Blahnik, ECT), the house members are expected to obtain expensive dresses and items for their Ball runway competitions and members of the Ball community must always "stay fresh" and display that they have an affluent life. The standards of the Ballroom community for its members to outsiders seem obscene, but the Ball community has always been known for its lavish appeal and originated in New York during the Harlem Renaissance on the 1920s and 1930s in the midst of flourishing Black night-life and culture. During this time, black men would dress up as women (and vice versa), and perform shows and dances for white onlookers who came for the excitement of "exotic" theatricals. Furthermore, during the Harlem Renaissance, ballroom culture emerged in Chicago, but it wasn't until the 19760's and 1970's when ballroom culture started to appeal specifically towards gay and transgendered people of color. Even though Ball culture thrives on materiality, studies form Rowan show that in 2008, 45% of ball members made less than $10,000 a year and that only 18% earned more than $30,000. Due to many Ball participants being expected to pay for lavish clothing and events on little income, many are forced to sell their bodies and go into prostitution. A study by social workers in 2010 of 504 member of the New York City Ball culture found that 17% of the Ball participants were HIV positive and 73% of participants were unaware of their HIV status prior to testing being done. Thus, the need to present oneself as affluent to support expensive Ball shows, can lead to the contraction of HIV (according to social workers) by increasing the incentive for members to sell their bodies in exchange for cash.


HIV overview[edit]

Bailey has noted through his observations and research of Ballroom culture, that there are woes of African Diaspora by Black Queers because they don't conform to hegemonic sexual and gender norms that makeup a typical American family. Bailey argues that because Black queers feel a societal displacement, they are more reluctant to seek help and educational issues about HIV/AIDs if they were to not be a part of a ballroom community. Therefore, a ballroom community is also the place where Black Queers can eliminate their feeling of marginalization and displacement and become educated on many of the risks of HIV/AIDS, in a comfortable and supportive environment. AIDS is said to have originated in communities defined by African Diaspora in post-colonial geographies.

In Ballroom communities, houses that consist of mainly Black participants encompass African- Americans from nearly every nationality. In the community houses Black queers from Europe, South/Central America, the Caribbean and the United States have a place to converse and discuss the issues they face as part of the LBGTQ community. With a collective community that encompasses people who have/will go through the same struggles as themselves they are more open to discussing the issues they face and the precautions they need to take in order to not contract diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Bailey has noted that house moms and dads help the participants (and their "kids") of their house to fill out forms to get testing, drive them to the testing, provide them with money to pay for the testing and are able to talk to them about the guide them about what protection they will need in order to not contract diseases. The house moms and dads serving as mentors is especially important for the younger house members, who are usually around the age of 18-19 because these members often join the house out of high school and have had little guidance on the information and materials they will need for protecting themselves.

Furthermore Bailey notes that Black Ballroom houses make an effort to take their participants to speeches and functions about black queer youth. At these functions the participants are able to get a better understanding of the issues that they might be facing as a person of color in the LBQTQ Community. Bailey notes that Black Ballroom houses are needed, even with the diversification of America because, "claims for inclusion in the nation state made exclusively on the grounds of racial accommodation can never be accommodated" (p 55). Bailey made this statement to argue that Black Ballroom houses are a space un-parallel to other houses for Black LBGTQ members because Black Queers will never fully be integrated into society, thus a house where they can have support and learn about their identity gives them a chance to thrive in a community that already marginalizes them Blacks, and Queers.

Specifications of ballroom house culture[edit]

A specific example of Ballroom house's that are aimed at uniting the Black LBGTQ community and fighting against HIV are the ballroom houses in Baltimore. In the article: In Baltimore, Ballroom culture is transforming the fight against HIV, Kevin Rector exposes how the Baltimore Ballroom houses have helped provide an outlet for a community faced with the threat of HIV. In this article, Rector interviews Keith Holt, a leader of the Baltimore Ballroom community, to get a better understanding of the houses and their participants. Keith Holt, who goes by the name Keith Ebony, belongs to the Ebony house and serves as a house leader and HIV ambassador to help spread the message of HIV to inside and outside the Ballroom communities of Baltimore. Additionally, Holt serves as a youth coordinator of the Baltimore's health departments division of clinical services. Holt makes an effort to support and attend events where HIV testing is present. Recently Holt attended the 2014 Black Pride Celebration which offered HIV testing and precautionary speeches on unprotected sex in the Ballroom community. Holt and other leaders of Ballroom houses are well respected and receive the title of "legendary" in the ballroom community sense they have been members of their houses for more than a decade and have won many titles on the runway (p 2). Due to Holt having a legendary status, ballroom youth and even ballroom elders look to him for guidance; a ballroom participant from a neighboring house even states that, "we know this is a community we need to put resources into…and you will listen to that person more (referring to Holt and the other legendaries) more than you will listen to the random model on the poster saying "wrap it up"" (p 4). Additionally Holt states that not everyone in the Ballroom community "is out" and that because of this, the Ballroom community provides a safe place for queer youth, and especially queer Black youth, to thrive. Through this article we are given more accurate insight on the Ballroom community and on Keith Holt and how he helps to maintain his Baltimore Ballroom community and spread the message about HIV/AIDS. Without personal articles such as this one, the Ballroom community would feel as if it was a distant concept, when in reality it a Ballroom house might be just around the corner.

Influences[edit]

New York's legendary Ballroom Culture has been a huge inspiration for performers since the 1980s, all the way up until today. Central to the balls are extravagant pageantry and voguing— a form of angular, improvisational and competitive dancing that can be compared to break dancing— which reached mainstream popularity through Madonna's 1990 hit "Vogue". (Today, the debate lingers as to whether people like Madonna were important ambassadors for gay Latino and black men within the ballroom scene, or merely opportunists who pilfered the culture for their own benefit and moved on.) More recently, a group called House of LaDosha, a dance-rap and performance group in Brooklyn, showcases fringe artists from almost every type of genre. However, they all have a few things in common: they are wildly flamboyant, mostly dressed in drag, and determined to keep up the high energy all night. Hip-hop's identity seems to be pulling heavy inspiration from Ballroom Culture today, more than ever. There are rappers like A$AP Rocky or Soulja Boy that are harkening back to hip-hop's earlier days and labeling themselves "pretty." There is Nicki Minaj's decision to stage high-budgeted, flamboyantly costumed performances consistently on national television. For the first time ever, XXL even listed a woman in the 2012 edition of their annual list of hip-hop freshmen.

Zebra Katz, an American rapper, is widely known for his 2012 breakout single "Ima Read." The music video for "Ima Read" shows a sort-of grey-washed dystopia take on a private school where masked, gender-neutral figures sporting school-girl outfits and waist-length braids haunt abandoned hallways. Meanwhile, Kantz portrays a school teacher, marking big red F's on papers, chanting, "I'ma read that b*tch/ I'ma teach that b*tch/ I'ma take that b*tch to college/ I'ma give that b*tch some knowledge/ I'ma read/ I'ma read/ I'ma read…" Zebra Katz explains, "It's a fine line that I'm playing here. I'm trying to see how cleverly I can walk a tightrope… You have [fans from] the ball culture," he says, "And then you have hip-hop heads who are gonna say this is 'hard' because it's very minimal and to-the-point."

To the average listener, "Ima Read" comes off as a twisted pro-education anthem. According to Kantz, in some ways, it is. However, ultimately it is a bow to Ballroom Culture. Throughout the entirety of the song, he consistently raps, "I'ma read/I'ma read/I'ma read," which is a reference to the vogue slang "reading," which is to verbally insult someone on the dance floor. Sometimes the ballroom references made by this wave of rappers are as blatant and simple as naming a song "Ima Read" or tagging song uploads with "vogue" and other related terms. However, there are deeper and more understated roots that connect to a lineage of communal cultural experiences shared by gay African Americans and Latinos in New York City.

Le1f, aka Khalif Diouf, the wunderkind rapper and producer comments on Ballroom Culture, "When I first found out about voguing as a teenager, it was an eye-opening experience because it felt like an innate way of moving. And a lot of my music is made with the intentions of movement and dance… But it's the cultural side-- the experience of being at a ball-- that's affected what I rap about. The fact that there's a scene that's existed for so long with such a rich history, and is ceremonial, is really nice." He also added, ""It's also just a community of people who are so liberal and devoted to making good art, often collaboratively."

Chantal Regnault, director and photographer, released gorgeous photo book "Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York 1989-1992" in 2011. It includes a quote from black cultural critic Frank Leon Roberts, "A rich taxonomy of gender personas and identities flooded in: thugged-out hustlers who were 'new' to gay culture, butch lesbians with erotic attachments to gay men, bootleg black designers and fashionistas eager to put their garments 'to test' in a new urban scene." His characterization of the ball-culture scene, here, does not sound so different from the web of subcultures thriving in New York today.

Dance[edit]

The most notable influence of ball culture on mainstream society is voguing, a dance style originating in Harlem ballrooms during the first half of the 20th century and popularized by the video for Madonna's Vogue released in 1990 (the same year as Paris Is Burning). According to one source, "Many people only know of underground ballroom culture from Madonna's 'Vogue' or the film 'Paris Is Burning'." The dance group Vogue Evolution, from America's Best Dance Crew, has again sparked interest in voguing.[12][17]

Language[edit]

Ball-culture terms are sometimes used more generally; "drag mother" may apply to any drag queen in a mentorship role, and "drag house" may refer to a group of drag performers allied personally or professionally. "Fierce" and "fierceness," "work it" and "working it," "fabulous" and "fabulousness" are heard in Paris Is Burning and appeared in the lyrics of "Supermodel (You Better Work)", a 1992 hit by drag queen Ru Paul. These terms became more widely used in gay slang, fashion industry jargon and mainstream colloquial language.[29]

Music[edit]

Ball culture has been fertile ground for new forms of house music and other genres of electronic dance music through its DJs.[17][30] The culture has also influenced a wave of queer hip hop artists.[31]

Fashion[edit]

Ball culture has influenced "the über-puffed-up peacock sexuality" of contemporary mainstream hip hop.[citation needed] A professor at New York University professor said about gay black culture, "Today's queer mania for ghetto fabulousness and bling masks its elemental but silent relationship to even more queer impulses toward fabulousness in the 1960s and 1970s."[32][33]

Mainstream entertainment[edit]

In 2006, Beyoncé Knowles told a reporter from The Independent "how inspired she's been by the whole drag-house circuit in the States, an unsung part of black American culture where working-class gay men channel ultra-glamour in mocked-up catwalk shows. 'I still have that in me', she says of the 'confidence and the fire you see on stage ... '"[34]



[35]

[36]

[37]

[38]

[39]

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[42]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Podhurst, L.; Credle J. (2007-06-10, page 13; Intl. Conference on AIDS. 1998; 12: 913 (abstract no. 43338). NJAETC at UMDNJ, Newark 07107-3000, US.). "HIV/AIDS risk reduction strategies for Gay youth of color in the "house" community. (Meeting Abstracts)". U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 2007-10-20.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d "The Rainbow History Project: Drag in DC". Rainbow History Project. 2000–2007. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  3. ^ House system", in this sense, is unrelated to the house system used in British schools and those modeled along these lines.
  4. ^ a b c d Levy, Emanuel (2004–2007). "Paris Is Burning (film review)". Emanuellevy.com. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  5. ^ a b [1] Paris Is Burning (1991)
  6. ^ [2] Bent Magazine
  7. ^ [3] How Do I Look, an instruction DVD with limited distribution in New York City and Philadelphia, delves into the houses of the New York City ball culture.
  8. ^ "San Francisco Bay Times". Sfbaytimes.com. 2006-06-01. Retrieved 2013-10-31. 
  9. ^ Imperial Court System [3]http://www.imperialhouseofblack.org/
  10. ^ "Business Entity Details". Sccefile.scc.virginia.gov. 2013-02-05. Retrieved 2013-10-31. 
  11. ^ a b Trebay, Guy; Credle J. (January 12–18, 2000). "Legends of the Ball: Paris Is Still Burning". Village Voice. Archived from the original on November 12, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-20. 
  12. ^ a b [4] Ottawa Citizen September 6, 2006
  13. ^ "House names" are also used and passed along in the Imperial Court System. While these imply a degree of friendship and trust, these are not a primary means of organization and an individual in the Imperial Court may belong to an unlimited amount of houses.
  14. ^ a b c d e "The Slap of Love" by Michael Cunningham
  15. ^ a b [5] IMDb Bio for Kevin Aviance.
  16. ^ a b [6] House of Aviance
  17. ^ a b c [7] House of Diabolique
  18. ^ "Walk for Me Wednesdays Online - The ORIGINAL Ballroom Community Website". Walk4mewednesdays.com. Retrieved 2014-01-15. 
  19. ^ "The House of Khanh". Myspace.com. June 25, 2010. Retrieved December 9, 2011. 
  20. ^ The House of Balenciaga
  21. ^ "The House of Garcon". Thegarcons.com. Retrieved December 9, 2011. 
  22. ^ The House of Myake Mugler
  23. ^ The House of Ebony
  24. ^ The House of Milan
  25. ^ The House of Evisu
  26. ^ The House of Prodigy
  27. ^ The House of Allure
  28. ^ "House of Blahnik". House of Blahnik. Retrieved 2013-10-31. 
  29. ^ Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang by Paul Baker
  30. ^ [8] Hang the DJ(2006)
  31. ^ "We Invented Swag: NYC's Queer Rap". Pitchfork, March 21, 2012.
  32. ^ [9] Pic Up the Mic at Toronto Film Festival.
  33. ^ [10] "Don't Hate on Us, We're Fabulous: Notes on the History and Culture of Black Glam"
  34. ^ [11] The Independent Online, September 3, 2006
  35. ^ Emily A. Arnold & Marlon M. Bailey (2009) Constructing Home and Family: How the Ballroom Community Supports African American GLBTQ Youth in the Face of HIV/AIDS, Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 21:2-3, 171-188.
  36. ^ Bailey, Marlon M. "Global Circuits of Blackness." Google Books. University of Illinois Press, 2010. Web. 04 Nov. 2014.Bailey, M. M. (2011). Gender/Racial Realness: Theorizing the Gender System in Ballroom Culture.Feminist Studies, 37(2), 365-386.
  37. ^ Bailey, M. M. (2011). Gender/Racial Realness: Theorizing the Gender System in Ballroom Culture.Feminist Studies, 37(2), 365-386.
  38. ^ "The Ball Scene." House of Nuance. House of Nuance, 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
  39. ^ Battan, Carrie. "We Invented Swag: NYC's Queer Rap: How a group of NYC artists are breaking down ideas of hip-hop identity." Pitchfork Media. Pitchfork Media Ink, 2012. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
  40. ^ Rowan D, Long D, Johnson D. Identity and Self-Presentation in the House/Ball Culture: A Primer for Social Workers. Journal Of Gay & Lesbian Social Services [serial online]. April 2013;25(2):178-196.
  41. ^ "In Baltimore, Ballroom Culture Is Transforming the Fight against HIV." Baltimoresun.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2014.
  42. ^ Bailey, M. M. (2014). Engendering space: Ballroom culture and the spatial practice of possibility in Detroit. Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal Of Feminist Geography, 21(4), 489-507. doi:10.1080/0966369X.2013.786688

See also[edit]

General:

External links[edit]