Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 Notes (Ella)

Book Citation: Baker, Stuart and Lawrence, Tim. “Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92.” London, England. Soul Jazz Books, 2011. Print.



  • “…the culture of drag balls and voguing can be traced back to the second half of the 19th century. Harlem’s Hamilton Lodge staged its first queer masquerade ball in 1869, and some 20 years later a medical student stumbled into another ball that was taking place in Walhalla Hall on the Lower East Side.” (Lawrence 3)
    • Interesting it is 1869 because a century later is stonewall
    • These types of events carried on to the 1920s
  • “Held once a year, the balls came to feature a procession known as the ‘parade of the fairies’, which involved drag queen contestants sashaying through the auditorium in preparation for a costume competition.” (Lawrence 3)
  • “Hughes concluded that ‘Harlem was in vogue’ and ‘the negro was in vogue’.” (Lawrence 3)
  • “Parker Tyler evoked the drag ball floor as ‘a scene whose celestial flavour and cerulean colouring no angelic painter or nectarish poet has ever conceived.’”(Lawrence 3)
    • New York criminalized ‘homosexual solicitation’ in 1923 (Lawrence 3)
    • In the 1960s the balls became more skewed towards white drag queens so in 1962 the first black ball was held by Marcel Christian (Lawrence 3)
    • “It was the queens’ most baroque fantasies of glamour and stardom, all run on Singer sewing machines in tiny apartments.”- Michael Cunningham in a 1995 article (Lawrence 4)
    • 1972 Crystal LaBeija was asked by Lottie to start a ball house, House of LaBeija, the first house (Lawrence 4)
      • More houses emerged following the House of LaBeija
      • Pepper LaBeija succeeded Crystal LaBeija
      • These houses allowed for balls to not have bias towards white queens
      • Coincided w civil rights movement
      • Houses would often become homes for patrons rejected by their families
    • “Willi Ninja founded the House of Ninja in 1981 or 1982 and set out his intention to bring Asian aesthetics and philosophy into the ball world.” (Lawrence 5)
    • “Possibly founded by Father Hector in 1982, the House of Xtravaganza, the first Latin house, formally entered the drag ball scene when they attended the House of Omni ball in 1983.” (Lawrence 5)
    • “Then, in 1987, the boutique owner and fashion designer Pat Field established the House of Field as the first white downtown house to walk the uptown balls.” (Lawrence 5)
    • “As the houses proliferated, so did the balls, because each house aspired to host its own ball, and during the 1980s they became monthly affairs, which was about as frequent as anyone could manage, preparation being an immense challenge for the event’s participants, never mind its organizers.” (Lawrence 5)
    • “‘Paris Dupree held her first Paris is Burning ball in 1981, and that’s the first time the categories were really there,’ says Kevin Ultra Omni, founder of the House of Omni.” (Lawrence 5)
    • “Growing out of the drag queen ritual of throwing ‘shade’, or subtly insulting another queen, voguing emerged as a distinctive dance of first the houses and then, inevitably, the balls, where specific voguing categories were eventually introduced… ‘Paris had a Vogue magazine in her bag, and while she was dancing she took it out, opened it up to a page where a model was posing and then stopped in that pose on the beat. Then she turned to the next page and stopped in the new pose, again on the beat.’” (Lawrence 5)
      • Internal quote by David DePino, a DJ for the voguing community
    • “…voguers and breakers were also committed to ‘keeping it real’.” (Lawrence 6)
    • “‘Modern balls, with their judging panels holding up numbered scorecards, petty jealousies among lifelong rivals, and partisan crowds booing their favorite’s low score, have all the flavor of great sporting events,’ Valenti argued.” (Lawrence 6)
      • Chi Chi Valenti- performing artist and promoter
      • Continued with: “‘Some dream of bigger runways and fashion careers,’ she wrote. ‘Some look only as far as their next category.’”(Lawrence 6)
    • Aids Love Ball: “‘Leading figures from the fashion industry were on hand to sponsor, perform, or judge in perhaps the biggest public display to date of “voguing”, a campy, stylized version of runway modelling that has flourished for decades in Harlem and more recently in downtown nightclubs.’” (Lawrence 7)
      • Some houses were excluded from ball but big houses like LaBeija, Omni, and Xtravaganza were invited
    • PARIS IS BURNING: “Drag ball and voguing culture made its screen breakthrough in 1990 when Livingston’s movie, titles Paris Is Burning after the 1986 ball staged by Paris Dupree and the House of Dupree, began to pick up awards at film festivals. Shot between 1986 and 1989, the documentary provided a rich cultural insight into the previously clandestine culture of black and Latin drag balls through its mix of ballroom footage, everyday-life material shot at the piers, and interviews with Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Angie Xtravaganza and others. At one point in the film, one protagonist turns to another and says ‘You have three strikes against you; you’re black, gay, and a drag queen.’” (Lawrence 7)
      • This paragraph continues and later describes the story of Venus Xtravaganza, who was saving for sex reassignment surgery but was murdered and shoved under a bed in a hotel room
      • ((I have watched the film prior to reading this))
    • “Leading queer theorist Judith Butler responded to the film by asking whether the depicted drag queens undermine dominant values around gender and sexuality, showing them to be based on performance rather than some form of essential identity, or whether they effectively reinforce them by placing a high value on the lifestyle and material values of dominant white culture.” (Lawrence 7)
      • Butler supports her question with Venus Xtravaganza’s story, in which Venus wanted a life in the suburbs with a husband, washing machine, money etc.
      • Another response to the film argues that Livingston was only able to produce the film because she was white and educated
      • “…the documentary had shared the Grand Jury Prize at the 1991 Sundance film festival and went on to gross $4m at the box office.” (Lawrence 8)
      • Madonna’s single “Vogue”: “Vogue became the best-selling single of 1990.” (Lawrence 8)
        • Some members of the House of Xtravaganza were hired for the music video and Blond Ambition tour
      • Effect of AIDS on the NYC drag ball culture
        • “‘It’s not just her, it’s all of them,’ commented Hector Xtravaganza. ‘My entire gay childhood is disintegrating before my eyes.’” (Lawrence 9)
      • “‘People don’t understand the continuing importance of the houses,’ Andre Collins, DJ at the Warehouse in the Bronx, a hub for voguing from the late 1990s onwards, told the Village Voice in 2000, ‘They think it all ended with Paris is Burning. Those legends-Paris and Pepper and Dorian-are important, but what nobody realizes is that the concept has transferred from one generation to another.’” (Lawrence 9)
        • Collins continues by saying “…there has been a need for gay people to have a unity. Being a homosexual, a lot of these kids havebeen ostracised, beat up by their families, thrown out of their homes. It’s no different now than when I was a kid. Some of these kids are homeless and struggling. They don’t know how much talent and ability they have going on. So, if they join a house, they can belong somewhere, They can be a part of a team.” (Lawrence 9)

HECTOR XTRAVAGANZA Interview Section (2010)

  • From the section, “The Ball Scene Today”
    • “Back then, there was one ball maybe two every three or four months. Now, there’s a mini ball every week.” (Xtravaganza 35)
    • “A lot of the categories have changed somewhat. Especially the voguing categories. Now you have a vogue femme and vogue with a twist. And voguing dramatic where kids jump off tables.” (Xtravaganza 35)
    • “I am not in the House of Xtravaganza, I’m in the Home of Xtravaganza. We’re a home first, we call it a house but we’re not a house. I’m at home, we’ve called it a house for ballroom purposes. Don’t lose focus of that.” (Xtravaganza 35)

DAVID ULTIMA Interview Section (2010)

  • From “The Ball” Section:
    • “Being at a ballis like being at a fashion show. The difference is, you’re not being judged at a ball, people love you for who you are. At a fashion show you have to be skinny and beautiful for somebody to love you. Here you could be heavy, fat, black and you still get love.” (Ultima 62)

DANNY CHISLOM Interview Section (2011)

  • “I finally went to my first ball in 1987 at the Savoy Ballroom in the Bronx. It was the House of Overness Ball. It was just surreal, unbelievable. I watched the whole thing as if I was starving.” (Chislom 86)
  • “There were categories like light versus dark for butch queen face. Performance was old way, they didn’t want any pop, dip and spin… It was voguing, but it was called performance.” (Chislom 86)
  • “Around 1990, it seemed like things were changing. People were starting to pass away. The balls became more exposed through newspapers like the Village Voice covering them. And there was Madonna, Paris is Burning – people were approaching it differently.” (Chislom 87)
  • “Also, drags became another gender. You always had the butch queens and the femme queens categories, and you had biological women and butches categories. Then they always had, like, butch queen and drag, which was a butch queen category. But then categories like drags dace and drags realness began to emerge. Because these butch queens who weren’t taking hormones, didn’t have any bodywork done, who looked like girls when they dressed up. Drags face opened up the door for butch queen drags as being a different gender specification away from butch queen.” (Chislom 87)
  • “In the 2000s you have sex siren, which is face, body and realness all together. Everyone goes to the gym now. The femme queens today look like supergirls. Frighteningly perfect.” (Chislom 88)

TOMMIE LABEIJA Interview Section (2011)

  • “Now the new kids are doing their own thing. It’s a struggle between the old and the new. You really can’t get past the old school kids, because they are the ones who haves more respect in the ballroom, are giving the balls and judging these balls. Then you have the new school kids, trying to make a name for themselves, who can’t really do this without kissing the asses of the older school, the legends and the icons. When they pass on, God forbid, the new kids will be able to run things the way they want. Now it;s a constant battle and lots of fights. Old v new.” (LaBeija 116)
  • “The voguing and femme queens revived the club scene. Before it was gay clubs and straight clubs. Now we all party together. I think the ballroom community shaped the mainstream today. It was liberating. Anyway, it’s my belief that all guys are gay. Those who scream f*ggot the loudest are usually f*ggots.” (LaBeija 117)
  • “A lot of kids now are YouTube babies. They watch balls on YouTube, but never come to a ball because they are scared.” (LaBeija 117)

MUHAMMAD OMNI Interview Section (2011)

  • “Now you have balls in all the big cities – LA, Detroit, San Francisco, Boston, Washington – but it’s totally different. You do not have the houses with their mothers and fathers and the kids. Now you have Kiki functions, where you do not have to obey the rules, but that was what the mini-balls were. Now we are far away from the time where a house would throw one ball, maximum two a year. Now you have, like, a thousand balls a month. It became something else. But it’s still alive, a manifestation of gay culture. You cannot deny that.” (Omni 139)

ADRIAN MAGNIFIQUE Interview Section (2011)

  • “I’ve known a lot of kids who have sliced their wrists because they don’t want their parents to know. But mothers know anyway. It’s still a problem, especially with black and Hispanic families. All the great designers, poets, artists: homo. The gay culture has given so much to the world. From ancient times to today. Music, fashion, writing, poetry. The ball felt like an escape from the streets. The ballroom gives these kids a sense of freedom, to be free of who they are and express themselves- for that five or six hour ball or that 15-minute walk on the runway.” (Magnifique 162)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s