Music

Ballroom Culture Realness Took Over B&&B

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Sashay your way through a recap of the Bold Ball, and a short intro to the history of 'voguing’

On Saturday, 2 September Bread & Butter, along with the city’s vogue community, hosted a show stopping Bold Ball. Goddesses from the international ball scene brought it in front of the sassiest judges from around the world. Contestants competed in 10 categories included everything from “Woman’s Face: Chanel Chic” to “Best Dressed – McQueen in the Woods”. It was all amplified by the commentary of Kevin Jz Prodigy and Typhoon Prodigy and the crowd, who went wild well into the early morning hours. Check out the highlight images here, and if this has peaked your curiosity, read on for a brief history of ballroom culture.

A Short Introduction to Ballroom Culture
Ball culture began over 50 years ago when Harlem’s Black and Latino drag community defiantly started their own drag balls due to the discrimination experienced by people of colour at predominantly white shows. The event will see queens compete in a series of prize-winning categories that judge the contestants on their ‘realness’. These parameters include how they walk, dance, pass as a particular gender and the fierceness of their aesthetic. Members often belong to ‘Houses’ – a group of fellow queens, who act as surrogate families to the often ostracized queer minorities.

Vogue has played an important element in these exuberant dance battles since the 1980s. The highly stylised moves were inspired by ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and striking model-like poses on the beat, requiring tremendous strength, posture and coordination – along with a whole lot of attitude of course. The 1990 documentary ‘Paris is Burning’ by Jennie Livingston, is the most significant record of the subculture. The film explores the scene between the mid- to late-‘80s, focusing on New York’s most vivacious competitions and fabulous figures in the community. These include Angie Xtravaganza, Paris Dupree and Pepper LaBeija.

In the same year, Madonna exposed the dance style to a mainstream audience with her smash hit song Vogue. After seeing performers at a nightclub called Sound Factory, she wrote the famous tune in honour of the intricate style and hired the dancers. Although her music and video made many people aware of vogueing, it can be argued that Madge’s ‘celebration’ of the genre ignores its roots in marginalised LGBTQ culture. Despite the worldwide success of the song, the subculture, also known as the House System, managed to maintain its underground status.

Since then, TV series RuPaul’s Drag Race has propelled the popularity surrounding competitive drag performance and the vocabulary that originates from the Ball scene. Despite ongoing appropriation in media, the heart of the scene remains in LGBTQ safe-spaces. This scintillating cultural phenomenon has now spread from the U.S. East Coast across the world.

Paris, London, Berlin and Stockholm are among the cities that have been inspired to slay, adopting their own Ballroom communities and holding wild dance battles. Styles of vogueing have developed over the years, from the classic and angular ‘Old Way’ to the dexterity- challenging ‘New Way’ – since 1995, the characteristic drama of Vogue Femme. As the performative signatures have evolved, so has the music they rely on to soundtrack each ‘walk’. From the early disco and house influences to current day MCs chanting over beats, music keeps the contestants working and the party going. New Jersey’s Mike Q is one of the most prominent producers in the scene. You can check out his interview with B&&B for our Bold Minds Speak series here.