This blog series guides you through a brief history of ballroom culture and voguing. From the beginnings in New York to modern voguing and performance categories, Duane Nasis explores this dance culture.

The origins of ballroom culture and voguing as it is known today can be traced back to early twentieth century New York, post-depression and post-prohibition.

At this time intense political conservatism and ‘moral’ (heteronormative) policing gave rise to an underground culture of racially integrated drag and masquerade balls. These balls provided spaces for gay men and women to gather safely in the spectacle and pageantry of flamboyant drag competitions.

In the 60s these integrated balls began to fracture as the Black & Latino participants, frustrated at the racial bias in the judges’ decision-making, set up their own balls that quickly overshadowed those of their white counterparts and drew even more spectators. One of these pioneers was Crystal LaBeija, who went on to found one of the first voguing ‘houses’ that still lives on today, The Royal House of LaBeija.

Early ballroom in Harlem initially continued the performance conventions of drag pageants, but as houses grew and ‘mothers’, ‘fathers’ and ‘children’ began to innovate and assimilate outside influences, Harlem ballroom developed into a uniquely codified spectacle constructed entirely by the performance of gender, race, and class.

Members of the London Ballroom Scene and friends will be performing at Friday Late Spectacular: Body Language on Friday 4 November.

Duane Nasis is an Old Way Voguer and Art Director, who creates and develops concepts for various moving image projects from stop-motion animation and commercials to music videos. 

Featured image: Crystal LaBeija. Source: Frank Simon ‘The Queen’, 1968 

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