This October, the LGBTQ Resource Center will be celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month with a series of programs and events. Two of these events include a Vogue Workshop and a HalloQueen Ball, both hosted by members of the Syracuse ball scene, Yvoni Amor and Sparkle Royale. To prepare for these upcoming events, let’s learn a little more about ball history and culture!
1. Ball Culture Is Linked With Black and Latine LGBTQ+ People
Ball culture, sometimes known as house culture or ballroom culture, is closely linked with Black and Latine culture. The ballroom scene of today stems from a history of bigotry and exclusion that led to Black and Latine queer people creating a space where free expression of their complete selves was not only possible, but celebrated. Even though some parts of the house (older, more established and intense) and kiki (younger, more lighthearted) ball culture have popped into the mainstream, the culture as a whole is still a subculture that the queer Black and Brown community holds close.
2. Houses Aren’t Just Buildings
Security has always been a huge factor within the ball scene. Houses have served as an important part of keeping Black and Brown queer people safe while also creating community, and in many cases, a chosen family. There is often a house Mother and/or Father and “children” who all participate in balls together, though every house functions differently and has different expectations for its members. Some houses are famous, such as the House of Miyake-Mugler and the House of Balenciaga, and notable for their performances during balls. But not every house is well-known; above all else, houses are true safe spaces for Black and Brown queer people.
3. Balls Aren’t for Slow Dancing With Partners (Most of the Time)
A ball is an event typically thrown by elders, organizations and/or leaders within the LGBTQ+ community of a given area. Historically, you found out about these events through word of mouth and knowing people active in the local LGBTQ+ community. These events usually happen at night and consist of a competition with categories and judges who are respected members of the queer community. There is often a commentator who can recite chants, introduce someone to walk and generally keep the pace of the competition. Anyone can walk (perform in) a category, but typically those who walk are well-known performers that are part of houses, and they represent their house when they walk.
4. Balls Are Split Into Categories
Many different performances happen during a typical ball. These performances are divided into a certain number of categories that performers are typically informed of at previous balls, social media or general word of mouth. These categories can range from “Realness,” playing off of heteronormative ideals of gender, to “Vogue Fem,” a type of performance that prizes hyperfeminine voguing, to “Butch Queen,” a category for men-loving-men within the scene. These categories can vary based on region and specific communities’ histories.
5. Madonna Did Not Invent Voguing
According to History.com, vogue originated as a type of improvisational dance style within the gay and trans Black community and dates back to the 1970s, 20 years before Madonna’s “Vogue.” Voguing is a type of performance commonly performed at balls. There are five elements of vogue: catwalk, hands, spins and dips, duckwalks and floor performance. There are also different schools of voguing in which people specialize, including old school, new school and acrobatics. During a ball, there will typically be a category specifically for voguing but it can be seen outside of that category as well.
Despite there being common threads tying balls together, ball culture is not monolithic. The culture in New York City is much different than the ball culture in Los Angeles, which is different than the culture Atlanta and so on. Not every Black and Brown person has experience being a part of the ball scene, but for those who do, it is a deeply personal and unique one. This list gives just a small glimpse into a culture that spans generations of queer people who experienced the world very differently.
Written By Erykah Pasha ’24, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs