Less waltz, more vogue: A Look at LGBTQ Ball Culture

Striking a pose on the runway is both a competition and a collective unapologetic embrace for LGBTQ folks.

ball culture

Keelan Johnson takes the runway at Portland's Miyazaki-themed ball in Spring 2018. (Photo by Aileen Imperial/KCTS 9)

There are balls full of men in tuxes and women in gowns waltzing to classical music. Then there are balls that are creative, high-energy affairs with head-to-head runway competitions in everything from Vogue (a dance born out of the LGBTQ Ball culture popularized by Madonna’s song) to Face (a competition where participants are judged on how they present their face, often with a coy confidence).

The LGBTQ underground Ball and House culture was established by the urban Black and Latino gay communities of New York City in the 1960s. Inspired by runway fashion galas, balls became a place for the creative expression of gender and social roles.

From Ball Culture came the formation of “Houses,” a chosen family of people led by “Mothers” or “Fathers” who provide a support system and acceptance.

The Pacific Northwest is home to a recently seeded and growing Ball and House culture, with several Houses that support the LGBTQ community while also pushing the boundaries of both inclusivity and creativity.

“LGBTQ folks don’t have access to the Met Galas and these massive fashion events,” says Stephaun Blahnik of the Legendary House of Blahnik. “Balls are the quintessential space for us to shine.”      

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About the Authors & Contributors

Stephen Hegg

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is formerly a senior video producer at Crosscut and KCTS 9. He specialized in arts and culture.