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The Faces Behind Ball Culture

The Faces Behind Ball Culture

Black and white photo of a drag queen performing on stage

Ballroom Culture (a.k.a Ball Culture) is not only an exciting and welcoming subculture, but an important creation by the LGBTQ+ community. Its legacy still runs rampant within pop culture today; notable slang like “slay” and techniques in choreography like “voguing” all come from the individuals who partake in the ballroom lifestyle. In fact, Beyonce’s latest album and recent Renaissance Tour pays homage very directly to ball culture; the Renaissance Tour’s music, wardrobe and dancing deeply reflects its admiration for its originators. But who are the founders of the flamboyant and theatrical subculture? Read on to learn of ball culture’s origin and its co-creators.

I have a right to show my color, darling. I am beautiful, and I know I’m beautiful.

Crystal LaBeija (Mother of House LaBeija)
Photo of a Drag Queen putting on makeup, representative of Ball Culture

What Exactly is Ball Culture?

The ball culture we’re familiar with today is believed to have been originated in the late 1800s by African-American activist William Dorsey Swann. Swann, a self-proclaimed drag persona, created a safe place for other African-American LGBTQ+ community members to gather and partake in events that involved dressing in specific attire, what we know now as drag balls.

Fast-forward to the 20th century, when drag balls advanced into competitions and “houses”. “Houses” were divided communities made of participants of ball culture who were typically chosen by “House Mothers” or “House Fathers”. These participants were often Black and Latino individuals who may have been rejected by society because of their sexual identity and/or orientation. This allowed a haven for runaways, or those shunned from their homes and society, to fully express themselves with likeminded people.

Films like The Queen (1968) and Paris is Burning (1990) gave audiences a glimpse into ball culture. These representations of ball culture in mainstream media sparked conversation on the realities of what people of color, especially who are part of the LGBTQ+, experience every day. It was also important films like these that led pop culture into a whirlwind of inspiration from ball culture.

Ball Culture in Modern Media

From Emmy award-winning TV series like Pose and RuPaul’s Drag Race, to entertainers like Beyonce, Madonna and Azealia Banks‘ music, it’s clear that modern media is heavily influenced by ballroom culture.

As we celebrate Pride month and pay homage to the innovators of this subculture, here are some of our favorite pop culture moments that have been influenced by ball culture.

Paris Is Burning ‘House of Mothers’ Clip

Madonna’s “Vogue” Music Video

See Also

Beyonce’s “PURE/HONEY” Lyrics Video

Teyana Taylor’s “WTP” Music Video

RuPaul’s Drag Race Lip-sync Battles

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