An Overview Of The Drag Ballroom Subculture

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The drag ballroom culture is an enchanting subculture that clarifies the societal themes of race, gender, and sexual orientation. In this essay, I will mention the historical emergence and development of the ball culture an LGBTI+ subculture, and its components, drag performances and voguing as a dance; how it is associated with the gender expressions and perfromativity in the eyes of Butler; and the importance of vogue as a myth. Individuals, often drag queens, and houses who are mostly the competitors in the Balls perform in different categories and genres of drag. Drag refers to the practices of one gender dressing in the clothes typically worn by the opposite gender and often adopting the conventional idiosyncrasies of that gender. These queer performers develop a persona by adopting a name to generate their unique style and attitude.

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Ballroom culture sometimes referred to as house/ball community. Members of this community use performances to, half mockingly, revise and alternate dominant concepts of gender, sexuality, family and, community. The ball was a transformative realm, where anybody could be extraordinary, in defiance of everyday hardships – and that elaborate fantasy continues to seize mainstream fascination. There are six main ritual traditions in the culture. Some traditions are Runway, Body, Face, Labels and Realness in addition to Voguing. Today, members continue to call their main ritual a ‘Ball,’ but the terms Drag Ball and Vogue Ball have both fallen out of regular use. As a subculture – or a people who consider themselves to be a part of larger American society at the same time that they constitute a group unto themselves – the Ballroom Scene is always reconciling their understanding of gender and sexuality with mainstream American heterosexist definitions as well as the definitions of larger Gay and Lesbian worlds or African American and Latino worlds. Ballroom culture consists of one element that is very substantial: Houses. With the essential change of the ball culture in the 1960s, many of the performers could not express their gender identity and sexuality very openly to their designated and biological families. Groups called “houses” or “families” emerged to fill this void. These alternative families are led by a “mother” figure. If we approach this mother figure like Lacan, we encounter a Big other. The Big Other is the symbolic fabric of human subjectivity; therefore there are norms, desires, expectations, prohibitions, guarantees of meaning, representation regimes, and much more As I have said in the previous sentence the “Other” may distract attention and tends to personify it, if not caricature. The Big Other is purely virtual, and of it Lacan would often say that it doesn’t exist. Drag ball culture both resists and conforms to gender and sexuality norms. “There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; (…) identity is performatively constituted by the very «expressions» that are said to be its results.”

Performativity can be defined as a fluid process, characterized by action and speech, with no beginning or end. This process describes how gender identity is materialized and the ways in which it becomes, so to speak, a law. I want to emphasize what I just said, the process is fluid and repetitive (reiterative says Butler, borrowed from Derrida in this concept), creates norms, defends them for a while and then breaks them down. These created norms constitute recognizable gender identities, pushes the unrecognized to the limits, ignores or tries to destroy them. According to Butler, no gender identity can be revealed without passing through this system. Judith Butler claimed that the Ballroom Scene’s rituals were ultimately a ‘fatally unsubversive appropriation’. Basically, drag queens combines a certain number of visual codes (clothing, makeup, hair, etc. ) to create a performance and a message that does not meet gender expectations in society. Drag as performance is about illuminating the binary in society to subvert it from the base and the idea that gender itself is a performance.

The realness categories in the Balls such as femme queen, school boy, executive and etc. shows how the participants work to perform certain roles, for example a straight business executive, so as to stay safe on the streets. They can be “real” with their queer identities within their community. However, they also practice“passing” as straight individuals during their performances.

The realness categories provides a space for queer individuals to practice in accordance with traditional gender norms. According to Barthes, myth is a form of signification. However myth is different from ordinary speech and language. Vogue is a form of art that maintains the signifiers of queerness and embodies the praxis of gender and race. In the 1960s, as drag balls started to gain fame and these balls began to change the lives of many young queer people, this type of dance gradually began to spread and gain a special place in the gay world. Within a short period of time, voguing started to be regarded as a new way of expressing with its passion. Insipired from the hand gestures and poses of the models posing strikingly in Vogue magazine. Later, it continued to develop with the addition of figures taken from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic writings. It gained mainstream exposure with Madonna’s song Vogue, and when showcased in the 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning (1990). There are other accounts that note voguing may have originated from black gay prison inmates at Rikers Island, performed for the attention of other men as well as throwing shade. The essence of voguing can ironically, sarcastically, even hauntingly be summarized into one word: stylization. There are currently three different styles of vogue: old way, new way and the fem vogue. The performances often involved duck walks, cat walks, dips (often can be seen as death drops), hands and floor work. When they Vogue, community members tell at least two overlapping stories. One story involves claiming power from the powerful by disrupting dominant views. The other story involves the formation of a personal aesthetic in competition with peers according to evolving community standards.

“Each time I vogue I tell a different story,” said Bussey, a famous voguer. Voguing has even expanded from the LGBT+ community to heterosexual audiences, who attend or join balls and tend to be more appreciative of and engaged with the House culture. Voguing’s influence on contemporary pop culture has snowballed. TV show called RuPaul’s Drag Race, which draws heavily on the ball form with the competitions in different categories each episode, brought things into the mainstream. Meanwhile, words like ‘yaaas’, ‘werq’, and ‘shade’ have settle to our daily and online language We basically can say that has influenced many parts of modern culture with its dance moves and fashion.

In conclusion, there are still questions to be addressed with regard to ball culture’s analysis as a cultural phenomenon. The ball culture certainly created and reshaped its track during difficult times. While many of the original house mothers and fathers have passed away, they retain their iconic status. On the most immediate level of meaning in the moment of performance at rituals, Voguing’s transformation of beauty is about social conflict and the expression of power among peers. Members are always aware of how much their identities embody notions of power and powerlessness. At the same time, being able to change one’s identity, to grow into different senses of one’s race, gender, class, or any other facet of one’s subjectivity is highly valued. In other words, Balls and their traditions like Voguing are the most important discursive manifestations of the system of kinship that binds different subjectivities together in the community.

14 May 2021

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