I started this thread because i wanted to discuss the african american ballroom which goes way back to the harlem renaissance and continues on today
here's a documentarry and article discussing the scene
Paris Is Burning is a 1990 documentary film directed by Jennie Livingston. Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the poor, African American and Latino gay and transgendered community involved in it. Many consider Paris Is Burning to be an invaluable documentary of the end of the "Golden Age" of New York City drag balls, as well as a thoughtful exploration of race, class, and gender in America.
history and legacy of the Harlem drag balls Numerous historians and cultural commentators have traced the origins of today's house ball scene to the notorious culture of Harlem drag balls in 1920s and 1930s New York. Between roughly 1919 and 1935, an artistic movement that would come to be known as the "Harlem Renaissance" transformed the culture of uptown Manhattan not only as a result of its establishing new trends in black literature, music and politics but also for its scandalous night life and party culture. The Harlem drag balls -- usually held at venues such as the Rockland Palace (same club malcom x partied at back in the day) on 155th street or later the Elks Lodge on 139th -- were initially organized by white gay men but featured multiracial audiences and participants. The annual pageants became a sort of who's who of Harlem's black literary elite: Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen and Richard Bruce Nugent were all frequent attendees. Moreover, white photographers and socialites, such as the infamous Carl Van Vechten (author of the scandalous 1926 novel ****** Heaven), were also in attendance. The mixed racial dynamics of these early drag balls reflected the interracial nature of the Harlem Renaissance in general: African-American artists looked to wealthy white investors for patronage, while white spectators flocked to "hip" Harlem spaces as sources of trend-setting and exotic "negro" spectacle. The drag balls thus became a space where newly migrated African-Americans from the south and "liberal" Northern whites could imagine themselves as mavericks, as radicals pushing the norms of a then highly racially segregated U.S. culture. The lavish, carnivalesque drag balls became spaces where racial taboos were broken through sexual and gender nonconformity. The events soon evolved from grand costume parties to outright gay beauty pageants with participants competing in a variety of categories, many of which still bear resemblance to the categories of today's house ball scene (such as "Face"). However, not surprisingly, the early drag balls were plagued by an imbalance of racial power. Black performers, though allowed to participate in and attend the events, were rarely winners at the balls and often felt restricted in their ability to fully participate in the scene. Soon the black queens looked for opportunities to create a sociocultural world that was truly all their own. An exclusively black drag ball circuit in New York City began to form around the 1960s; almost three decades after the first "girls" started to compete at the earlier drag events. However the cultural and political landscape of Harlem, specifically the neighborhoods' earlier carefree "acceptance" of drag culture, had changed drastically. Due to the growing popularity of 1960s black nationalist rhetoric (with its rigid restrictions on how "real" black men should express themselves), the balls became a more dangerous pastime pleasure. The balls began to be held as early as 3, 4 or 5 a.m. -- a tradition that continues to this day -- in order to make it safer for participants to travel the streets of Harlem safely with high heels and feathers when "trade" had gone to sleep. The early morning start times also made renting out halls cheaper, and ensured that "the working girls" (i.e., transsexuals who made their money as late-night sex workers) would also be able to make the function. As the drag ball circuit continued to grow even in spite of a growing hostility towards queer black cultural practices in New York City, the time had come to create specific infrastructures that could help organize the balls as well as mobilize the friendships and familial alliances that were being formed between and among participants. The world of Harlem drag balls was about to transform itself once again. From ballroom scene to house ball: moving from drag circuits to house networks There has been a tendency among academics -- especially in the work of gay historians such as George Chauncey and Eric Garber -- to conflate the history of the drag balls with the history of the gay houses. While the "balls" can be traced back to the elaborate drag pageants of 1930s Harlem, it is important to keep in mind that the "houses" themselves were a new phenomenon that emerged in the specific socioeconomic and political contexts of 1970s and 1980s post-industrial New York. These contexts included a spiraling decline of the city's welfare and social services net, early gentrification of urban neighborhoods through private redevelopment, decreases in funding for group homes and other social services targeting homeless youth, a sharp rise in unemployment rates among black and Latino men, and a virtual absence of funding during the Reagan era for persons newly displaced and/or homeless as result of HIV/AIDS. All of these conditions forced blacks and gays (and especially black gays) onto the streets in unprecedented numbers. Houses became alternative kinship networks that selected a "mother" and "father" as their leaders ("parents" could be of any gender) and "children" as their general membership body. The "houses" were a literal re-creation of "homes," in the sense that these groups became real-life families for individuals that might have been exiled from their birth homes. However, contrary to popular belief, many early "house" kids were still deeply connected to their biological families but still sought the unique protection, care and love the street houses provided. Between 1970 and 1980 at least eight major houses formed in Harlem: the House of Labeija (an African-American vernacular redeployment of the Spanish word for "beauty"), the House of Corey, the House of Wong, the House of Dupree, the House of Christian, the House of Princess and the House of Pendavis. Just as hip hop -- with its emphasis on street crews and other forms of black male fraternal bonding -- emerged in roughly the same era as an artistic response to some of the political and economic conditions plaguing black men in New York, the houses became underground social networks by and for urban black gay people. By 1980 three houses emerged straight out of Brooklyn: the House of Omni, the House of Ebony, and the House of Chanel. These houses were composed of mostly men, many of whom preferred masculine aesthetics over drag. The creation of houses transformed the drag circuit forever as newer populations, some of which would have never been attracted to drag balls, entered into the community. A rich taxonomy of gender personas and identities flooded in: thugged-out hustlers who were "new" to gay culture, butch lesbians with erotic attachments to gay men, bootleg black designers and fashionistas eager to put their garments "to test" in a new, urban scene. The term "drag" now meant something much richer than only men who cross-dressed as women. Drag was now a metaphor for everyday life -- everyone was in some way or another performing a specific identity, regardless of whether or not cross-dressing was involved. In attempt to make sense of this growing array of gender performance, ball kids adopted a complicated language system that accounted for the different types of identities they noticed in the community: "Butch Queens" was a term used to describe any biologically born male that presented himself of as male, "Butch Queens Up in Drag" on the other hand came to signify gay men who dressed in drag specifically for the balls, but still lived his everyday life as a man. "Femme Queens" were preoperative male to female transsexuals, often known for their alluring beauty and uncanny "realness." "Butches" was a term used to describe either aggressive lesbian women or female-to-male transsexuals. The term "woman" was only reserved for either heterosexual, biologically born women or feminine lesbians that did not identify with the "butch" title. Finally "trade" was meant to describe men whose sexuality might have been in question even if their masculinity was not. This language system for describing gender in the house ball scene exists to this day. By the end of the 1980s, the balls were no longer the single most important element of the culture, as the houses provided a new life outside of the balls. The drag ball scene had now become the "house ball scene," with hundreds of individuals belonging to "houses" even if they did not participate in the drag events. How hip-hop changed house ball culture By the mid-'90s, long after Paris Is Burning had come and gone, house ball culture continued to evolve, while still remaining true to its history. as a form of cultural expression by and for working-class African-American and Latina/o queer people from urban inner cities. Though the scene started in New York City, by 1996 there were sizable house ball communities in the roughest sections of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles as well as in parts of North Carolina and South Carolina. In each of the cities, balls kids adopted and incorporated other, more local forms to make the culture regionally specific and relevant. This was the case with Atlanta's house ball scene, which borrowed from local black styles like "J-Setting," and Los Angeles, which even incorporated "krumpin'" into the culture. Across all the regions one thing was clear, though: whereas house music and dance culture served as the soundtrack and political landscape of the '80s scene, by the mid-'90s the influence of hip-hop on house ball culture was transformative. Hip-hop was much more than a musical style -- it was a movement. As a renaissance of sorts (albeit highly manufactured), hip-hop influenced and popularized certain notions of black masculinity and gender relations that found their way into the house ball scene. Categories at the balls such as "Thug Realness," "Urban Streetwear," "Bangee Realness" and "Foot and Eyewear" were all indebted to hip-hop culture's emphasis on bling bling aesthetics, aggressive black masculinities, in your face black style, baby mama drama and other racialized forms of expression. Many "voguers" in the community started looking for gigs as choreographers for hip-hop artists, as was the case with legends such as Andre Mizrahi of Atlanta and Pony Blahnik of New York City. "Voguing" transformed from the Willi Ninja-esque, "pose" heavy style (mis)appropriated by Madonna, to more a fluid, acrobatic dance which now looked like a sort of new black gay break dance. Moreover, because of the scene's deeply underground nature, and also because of the creation of categories like "best dressed man," "masculine face" and "realness," the house ball community provided a new space for discrete working-class men of color (men on "the D.L.") to feel comfortable participating in an openly SGL culture without necessarily outright identifying as gay. The incorporation of hip-hop into the scene broadened the full spectrum of gender performances that ball society became home to. House ball culture today Today's house ball scene features over 100 active "houses" in more than 13 cities across the country. In New York City alone there are at least 30 houses with memberships of a dozen or more: Aphrodite, Allure, Milan, Blahnik, Balenciaga, Mizrahi, Miyake-Mugler, Chanel, Infiniti, Revlon, Evisu, Prodigy, Latex, Xtravaganza, Ninja, Prada, St. Clair, Jourdan, Khan, LaPerla, Labeija, Escada, Pendavis, Cavalli, Karan, Ebony, Omni, Tsnumani, Angel and Icon. While every individual ball can often have dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of specific criteria, all of the categories are still organized around six major concepts: realness, face, sex and body, runway, performance and fashion. Many outsiders misinterpret the house ball scene's fascination with things like labels and fashion as a simplistic envying of white consumer culture. However, in actuality, a closer look at the sociocultural context of the balls shows that this is really not the case. The categories themselves are not nearly as important as the competition, kinship and relationships that are formed by and through the preparation for the events and the effects of gaining "status" within the community. Also, house ball culture is rooted in a rich tradition of African-American cultural practices that privilege inversion, code switching and signifyin'. Thus, unlike hip-hop culture, the emphasis on bling bling and acting like a "white woman" is actually more of an ironic mockery and critique of these values more so than a straight-forward embracing. In a moment when the culture of black gay life in New York has been reduced to an endless parade of "hot boy" parties, "sup ******" salutations and lukewarm political "activism," the creation of spaces where new modes of black masculinity, kinship and love can thrive is particularly inventive. House ball culture, with its rich and complicated history as an alternative site of black "community," moves us forward to time and place where black queer people can imagine new ways of making home -- and identity itself -- from scratch.
heres a video showcasing me and some of the beautiful transgender ladies in the ballroom scene we walked the ballroom categories called face were we were judged on how beautiful are faces are, realness were we were judged how close we came to the image of a heterosexual woman and sex siren a category based on how sexy we were
here a video with the modern ballroom beauties
LADIES & GENTLEMEN:
THE GREATEST BALL ON EARTH! 2: A HARLEM FANTASY (TGBOE 2) takes us to a time when the bars closed in the after-hours of gay Harlem. Two of the Ballroom’s most revered figures, Dorian Corey & Pepper Labeija were hosting their highly anticipated “Harlem Fantasy” Ball. At four in the morning, people “turned up in dresses even Madame Pompadour herself might have thought twice about and was putting together outfits bigger and grander than Rose Parade floats.” This was the place where a scorned community came together to live a fantasy. Pepper and Dorian's drag balls ignited and transformed the organized masquerades that had mostly died out in the 1960’s. The first of these colorful spectacles began in 1979 but grew to reach heights undreamed of by its predecessors. And when gay men emerged into public view in this post-Stonewall era, Pepper and Dorian added categories for them to “walk” (sans drags). TGBOE 2 organizer and author Terrence Legend was able to experience their Harlem Fantasy Ball in 1982 – the first ever recorded – courtesy of Ballroom Icons Pepper “Lolita” Labeija (RIP) herself and Lifetime Achiever Kevin Ultra Omni. TGBOE 2 is based on this archival footage as well as other material from Legend’s expansive archive.
For sponsorships, tables, media or other business matters:
Father Terence Legend Int'l at (212) 368-2470 or TerrenceLegend@yahoo .com or TerrenceLegend@thegr eatestballonearth.co m.
COPYRIGHT 2007. All Rights Reserved (except where copyrighted by another source.)
1. OTA: BEST DRESSED – You come from anywhere in the world, but come dressed to impress! Remember you’re attending a legendary Harlem ball in New York City and the STARS will be out! (2 trophies)(9/30/00: The Night All the Stars Came Back Out!; Pepper Labeija, John Moschino, Portia Labeija; YWCA, Brooklyn, NY) Winner advances to Special Prize #1 for $500.
It’s 5AM and I'm at the Crystal Ballroom, 2nd floor, on 125th street in Harlem. I’m perched next to PEPPER LABEIJA, the master of ceremony and Harlem Fantasy co-host. The rustic ballroom is a melting pot of faces, including a camera crew. We’re both sitting at a lone table just above the judges’ panel. Pepper’s wearing a lavender & white sequined dress, her hair snatched into a feathered bob. “We’re gonna start right now,” Pepper announces. But her first order of business is to establish herself as the Queen of the House of Labeija: “What am I in the house? Did I get across the track yet?” she deadpans to CRYSTAL LABEIJA, the founding mother. “Fab. Crystal’s the Empress. What does that make me? I am the Queen. I am the Queen of the House,” Pepper declares. Next she calls for her co-host. “Where’s Miss Dorian? Where’s my partner? She’s upfront somewhere,” shouts Pepper. “Call her. I want you all to see her. I want to introduce her properly.” A statuesque DORIAN COREY in a big curly blonde wig emerges from the back. She’s wearing a white & black wrap-around dress with a cigarette in her right hand and a huge rock on her finger. We applaud wildly at the ballroom's most famous person. Pepper exclaims, “She’s the star of stage and screen and our seamstress!” DJ Candy Stevens plays the first record of the night "Love Is the Message".
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*$2. BEST DRESSED WOMAN – Diamond Cluster Hustler. Queen Bitch, Supreme Bitch. In memory of Shamecca Christian Ebony, a ballroom diva and mistress of legendary Harlem drug kingpen Nicky “Mr. Untouchable” Barnes, who said Shamecca had a black belt in luxury shopping! “The foxiest chick does the trick,” says Pepper. Winner advances to Special Prize #1 for $400.
“She’s the type of woman with a family, home, car all the things most of us desire to have and she knows about clothes,” explains Pepper about SHAMECCA. She wore a gold lamay evening gown accented with long-sleeve lace gloves, gold shoes, purse and white veiled hat. It was everything. All of sudden she stops and pulls at the bottom of her dress, and joila - a tube skirt drops down. “Watch Out! The Foxiest Chick Does The Trick,” screams Pepper as Shamecca prances in her now V-cut gown. We cheer wildly. As other women hit the runway Pepper instructs to the judges, “Which is the foxiest out of all of them, minus the face, minus the outfit, the performance? Go down the list and take off from each of them. Do it secretively.” (The scoring system required each judge to have a category sheet with listed contestants who were rated from one to 10. The winners were revealed at the ball's end.) According to one source: One time Shamecca met Nicky Barnes in the Cayman Islands where she managed to smuggle a million dollars in diamonds through customs. Barnes had decided to keep the diamonds in a safety deposit box there in case he had to leave the States on short notice." But when Barnes got convicted in 1979, she dated his crime partner Guy Fisher who once owned the Apollo Theater! She's also one of the few black women spotted on Fifth Avenue shopping in her mink coat. (This was the first category of the night and four others walked including MYRNA PENDAVIS.)
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4. FQ REALNESS – To be real or not to be, that is the question. Are you real enough to blend in with the rest of society and not be spooked as once being a man? If so come PROVE it. You must be in festive attire and have a confident attitude to match. Bring it the way Puerto Rican beauty Miss Sugar explained from her dressing room in 1982: “I was out at night and went to a party and realized it was daytime. But when I left, nobody knew I wasn’t a real girl.” In honor of Margo Princess, Miss Erica, Tina Labeija, Miss Tonya, Miss Monique, Miss Kimora, Donna Paris, Felicia Labeija Ebony and Pamela Wong. (7/18/93: I Declare War Part II, Eric & Kenny Chanel-Bazaar, Marc Ballroom, NYC)
“The first contestant is from the House of Princess,” Pepper announces with a sigh as MARGO PRINCESS, a 23-year old with honey brown skin, silky hair pulled back in a ponytail and legs even Tina Turner would envy hits the floor. She favored Angela Bassett and wore her trademark white & black summer dress with a shiny gold handbag. We all went wild by the way she flailed her hands in the air and sashayed. Once Margo was in front of the judges she threw her head back to reveal no Adam’s Apple. “Is she up in here? Give her what she wants!” screams Pepper. Next MISS ERICA, a Hispanic babe with Sophia Loren good looks marches out in a splendid lime green dress. As DJ Candy changes the record from “To Be Real” to “Keep In Touch,” TINA LABEIJA (an Omarosa Manigault lookalike) comes out in a red shirt, cocktail swing dress and gold pocketbook. Tina lays out on the floor as if she’s doing a magazine shoot and we cheer wildly. All of this was swell until MISS TONYA “from Brooklyn” trots out with her high cheekbones, porcelain skin, tight bob hairdo and Asian cut red dress looking like Jada Pinkett-Smith. “It’s Ovah!” Pepper says with approval. After this the bangy girls stormed: MONIQUE vs. KIMORA vs. KATHY, each dipped in plain black & white outfits with nappy hairdo’s. DONNA PARIS, a Chaka Khan dead ringer, joins the red-hot competition followed by FELICIA LABEIJA, Margo’s nemesis. Everyone was surprised to see Felicia up in here emoting down the runway in her black with red polka dot dress. “She’s been away for a while,” says Pepper, “You know she looks good.” Rounding out category is PAMELA WONG, who Pepper declares as “one of the Big Guns like her” or one of the premiere ball walkers, a legend.
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9. FQ BODY – Models or Luscious. Work your body. Sell your body. Make us know you have body. In honor of Miss Sugar, Nicole Wong, Tina Labeija, Mona Labeija and Miss Kimora. As Pepper explains, “This category is Body, Femme - these are the ones that are built just like women.” (10/1/95: A Night With the Dolls, Octavia St. Laurent, Sally’s II, NYC)
I chatted with MISS SUGAR, a Hispanic redheaded entertainer (she looked a lot like Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman), in the Crystal Ballroom’s dressing room. It had a dressing mirror and Miss Sugar was laboriously applying her makeup getting ready to compete. Miss Sugar says “Face, Body and Best Wardrobe” were her categories and she was about to show us why. Meanwhile the first to walk is KIMORA in a two-piece leopard bikini. Next MONA LABEIJA hits the floor in a jean skirt and she opens her shirt to expose her large breasts. Yet you could tell by the look on Margo and Mother Rose Princess' faces that they did not approve of what they saw so far. Then TINA LABEIJA in a gold lamet two-piece bathing suit does her second layout of the night. She really knows how to sell it. Right behind her the dark & lovely NICOLE WONG brings it to the judges wearing a yellow ruffled skirt with a black leather top exposing her perfect breasts. Amazing. The highlight though was MISS SUGAR who first comes out in black velvet mermaid dress with a white sash around her arm. Pepper screams, “Sugar! Body! Face! The whole bit!” As “Love Hangover” plays, Miss Sugar peels down to a two-piece bathing suit and then she lays out, takes the sash and turns it into a cape. When Miss Sugar exposes her breast Pepper asks, “Is it not ovah?” and she also notices something else: “Miss Sugar