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Ballroom culture, also known as 80s Ballroom, emerged in New York City during the 1980s. It is rooted in the LGBTQ+ community, particularly among African American and Hispanic queer individuals. The Ballroom scene provided a space for self-expression, creativity, and competition, blending elements of fashion, dance, music, and performance.[1]


Beginning in the late 20th century, African American and Hispanic drag queens began to organize their own pageants in opposition to racism experienced in established drag queen pageant circuits. Though racially integrated for the participants, the judges of these circuits were mostly white people.[1]

Detailed history[]

Ballroom culture has its roots in the African American and Hispanic LGBTQ+ communities of New York City. It emerged in the 1960s as a response to discrimination and exclusion faced by these communities in mainstream society. Ballroom culture provided a safe and empowering space for individuals to express themselves, showcase their talent, and compete in various categories.

The ballroom scene initially revolved around drag balls, where participants would compete in runway walks, dance battles, and other performance categories. These events became a platform for individuals to celebrate their identities, express their creativity, and form chosen families within the community. Ballroom culture provided an escape from the challenges of everyday life and offered a supportive environment for LGBTQ+ individuals to flourish.

The ballroom culture gained broader recognition and visibility in the late 1980s and early 1990s through the documentary film "Paris is Burning." Directed by Jennie Livingston, the film documented the lives and experiences of ballroom participants, showcasing their vibrant fashion, voguing dance style, and the rich culture of the ballroom scene. "Paris is Burning" brought ballroom culture to a wider audience, highlighting its influence on mainstream fashion, music, and dance.

Over the years, ballroom culture has evolved and expanded, spreading to cities across the United States and around the world. It has influenced various art forms, including fashion, dance, music, and language. The culture has its own unique vocabulary, with terms like "shade," "reading," and "voguing" becoming widely recognized and used in popular culture.

Ballroom culture continues to thrive today, with vibrant ballroom events, competitions, and houses (families or support networks) active in numerous cities globally. It has also had a significant impact on mainstream fashion and pop culture, influencing runway shows, music videos, and red carpet looks.

While ballroom culture has faced challenges, including appropriation and commodification, its resilience and cultural significance remain strong. It continues to provide a space for self-expression, celebration, and community-building, empowering LGBTQ+ individuals to embrace their identities, showcase their talents, and create their own definitions of beauty and style.


Here are some key visual aspects of the 80s Ballroom aesthetic:

  • Extravagant Outfits: Ballroom participants showcased their creativity and style through extravagant and elaborate outfits. The fashion included glamorous and avant-garde designs, incorporating bold colors, intricate patterns, sequins, feathers, and dramatic silhouettes. Participants aimed to make a statement and stand out from the crowd.
  • Voguing: Voguing is a dance form that originated in the Ballroom scene. It involves posing, striking angular and dramatic poses, and imitating high-fashion poses seen in magazines. Participants used their bodies as a means of artistic expression, emphasizing grace, precision, and fierceness.
  • Runway Realness: Runway competitions were a central part of Ballroom events. Participants walked the runway, showcasing their fashion, poise, and confidence. The runway walks combined elements of high fashion and personal style, often drawing inspiration from the fashion world while adding unique touches.
  • Categories and Houses: Ballroom events featured different categories in which participants competed, such as "Realness," "Face," "Femme Queen," and "Butch Queen." Participants formed houses, which acted as chosen families and support systems. Houses represented a sense of belonging and camaraderie within the Ballroom community.
  • Hair and Makeup: The 80s Ballroom aesthetic embraced bold and creative hairstyles, often with exaggerated volume, intricate braiding, colorful wigs, and unique hair accessories. Makeup was theatrical and expressive, featuring vibrant eyeshadows, bold lip colors, dramatic eyelashes, and sculpted brows.
  • Gender Fluidity: The Ballroom scene challenged traditional gender norms and embraced gender fluidity. Participants were free to explore and express their gender identities through their fashion, performance, and overall aesthetic. The 80s Ballroom aesthetic celebrated individuality and diversity.
  • Underground Culture: The Ballroom scene was primarily an underground culture that provided a haven for marginalized communities. It offered a platform for self-expression, allowing individuals to celebrate their identities, talents, and unique voices.


Ballroom culture fashion is known for its extravagant and expressive style, showcasing the creativity and individuality of its participants. Here are some key elements of ballroom culture fashion:

  • Gender-Bending Fashion: Ballroom culture challenges traditional gender norms, and fashion plays a significant role in expressing gender fluidity. Participants often mix elements of masculine and feminine styles, creating unique and boundary-pushing looks. This can include men wearing dresses or skirts, women wearing tailored suits, and the blending of traditionally gendered fashion items.
  • Drag-Inspired Looks: Drag has heavily influenced ballroom culture fashion. Participants embrace the art of transformation, using fashion as a means of creating larger-than-life personas. This can involve elaborate makeup, wigs, and costumes, often incorporating dramatic and theatrical elements to captivate the audience.
  • Extravagant Fabrics and Embellishments: Ballroom fashion often features luxurious fabrics, such as satin, sequins, velvet, and silk. These materials add a touch of glamour and opulence to the outfits. Embellishments like rhinestones, feathers, beads, and embroidery are used to enhance the visual impact and create eye-catching details.
  • Statement Accessories: Accessories play a crucial role in ballroom culture fashion. Bold and oversized jewelry, including chunky necklaces, statement earrings, and ornate bracelets, are often worn to complete the look. Headpieces, hats, and fascinators are also popular, adding an extra layer of drama and flair.
  • Creative Hairstyles: Hair is an essential component of ballroom culture fashion. Participants experiment with a variety of hairstyles, from elaborate updos and sculpted wigs to avant-garde braiding and intricate hair accessories. Hair colors are often vibrant and unconventional, embracing the freedom to express oneself through unique and eye-catching styles.
  • High Fashion References: Ballroom culture fashion draws inspiration from high fashion, blending couture elements with street style influences. Participants often reference iconic fashion designers and fashion trends, incorporating them into their own interpretations. This fusion of high fashion and personal style creates visually striking and thought-provoking ensembles.
  • Runway Realness: Ballroom events feature runway competitions where participants showcase their fashion and presence. The runway walks are characterized by confidence, poise, and the ability to embody different aesthetics and themes. Participants aim to embody "realness" by presenting themselves authentically and convincingly in their chosen categories.

Ballroom culture fashion celebrates self-expression, inclusivity, and creativity. It is a vibrant and ever-evolving form of artistic expression that continues to push boundaries and challenge societal norms.


Ballroom culture is known for its vibrant and energetic music, which serves as the backdrop for various dance battles, runway walks, and performances. The music played in ballroom events is diverse and spans across different genres, reflecting the eclectic tastes and influences within the community.

One of the prominent genres associated with ballroom culture is vogue beats. Vogue beats are electronic dance tracks specifically created for voguing, a style of dance that originated in the ballroom scene. These beats often feature fast-paced rhythms, catchy hooks, and repetitive loops that provide a dynamic and rhythmic foundation for dancers to showcase their skills.

House music is another genre closely tied to ballroom culture. Originating in Chicago in the 1980s, house music incorporates elements of disco, soul, and electronic music. Its pulsating beats, soulful vocals, and infectious melodies create an energetic and uplifting atmosphere, perfect for the high-energy performances and dance battles in the ballroom scene.

Hip-hop and R&B music also play a significant role in ballroom culture. These genres provide a diverse range of tracks that cater to different styles and categories within the ballroom scene. From uptempo rap tracks to smooth R&B ballads, hip-hop and R&B music capture the essence of self-expression, empowerment, and storytelling that are integral to ballroom culture.

In addition to these genres, ballroom culture draws inspiration from various musical styles, including pop, funk, Latin music, and even classical compositions. The music selection in ballroom events is carefully curated to create an engaging and immersive experience for the participants and audience.

Ballroom culture places great importance on DJing and music selection. DJs, often respected figures within the community, have a deep understanding of the specific moods, rhythms, and energy needed to enhance the different categories and performances in ballroom events. Their skillful mixing and song choices contribute to the overall ambiance and excitement of the ballroom culture.

Music artists[]

Here is a list of artists who have made notable contributions to the music associated with ballroom culture:

  • Madonna
  • Crystal Waters
  • Junior Vasquez
  • Masters at Work
  • Armand Van Helden
  • Lil' Kim
  • Missy Elliott
  • Azealia Banks
  • Beyoncé
  • Janet Jackson
  • Diana Ross
  • Jody Watley
  • Mary J. Blige
  • Mariah Carey
  • Solange
  • RuPaul
  • Sylvester
  • Lizzo
  • Kiddy Smile
  • MikeQ



  1. 1.0 1.1 Wilson, James F. (2011).  Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies  (Illustrated ed). .  Retrieved June 19, 2023.  Archived.