A room is a part or division of a building enclosed by walls, floor, and ceiling. Each room has its own identity, its own vibe, but is part of the same building, built on the same foundations. In the context of Ballroom we can see the categories as rooms, built on the same foundation of queer Black history, imagination, and tenacity; roomy containers for Black & Brown queer gender performance and indeed experience.
Categorization has always been one of the ways humans have made sense of the world. We’re constantly grouping and separating ourselves, and the lines we draw are mostly arbitrary and socially constructed.
Within the LGBTQIA+ community we have a particularly contentious relationship with categorization (as you can see from the + in our acronym, which is essentially an infinity sign). When it comes to gender, we are firm believers that there are as many genders as there are human beings, we all express ourselves differently, we all relate to our chosen/assigned category differently.
Having said this, categories have been important to us as a mode of validation and resistance against a society that has for the most part denied the possibility of anyone existing outside of the heteronormative rulebook. Although somewhat reductive (human sexuality and gender is vast, can it really be summarised in a single word?), the labels do give us permission to say, no I’m not straight I’m Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual etc etc; to name that experience. Similarly, the categories in Ballroom serve as an opportunity for mutual validation and community wide gender affirmation.
Within Ballroom culture, language has developed over time to identify community in an organised way. The gender identifiers are slightly different than that of mainstream LGBTQAI+ culture:
Butch Queen: gay/bi cisgender man
Femme Queen: Trans Woman
Butch: Masculine presenting woman/ Trans men
Drag Queen: Cisgender man in womens clothes/makeup
Female Figure: this term includes cis women, trans women & drag queens
Male Figure: this includes butch queens, trans men, & butch women
The concept of Realness is another core concept when considering the Ballroom category and gender performance system.
““Realness” has remained the basis for the fundamental performance criteria in the culture throughout the several decades that it has been in existence.”
- Marlon M. Bailey, Racial Realness, Theorizing the Gender System in Ballroom Culture (2011)
An example of a realness category would be “Butch Queen Schoolboy Realness” and the person who would win this category would be a gay/bi cisgender man who could successfully “pass” as a heterosexual schoolboy. If you are successfully embodying Realness it that basically means that you could easily blend in with heteronormative society.
“Realness” ultimately signifies the possibility of deception–an enduring illusion– positioned at the crossroads between the ballroom world and the “real world.” (Marlon M Bailey, for more reading on this follow link above).
Realness has been much discussed recently because some in the community argue that it sets heteronormativity and “passing” as straight/cisgendered as the benchmark for success. Shouldn’t we be moving away from that as a mark of success in our community?
But, in his 2011 book Marlon M Bailey reminds us that “Passing” was/is fundamentally a self-preservation strategy for many queer folk existing in mainstream society. The Ball is a safe space to rehearse and safely critique the performance of gender and sexual disguises that competitors must perfect “in order to negotiate and survive the rigid heteronormativity that they confront in their everyday lives.”
During a ball, the Houses compete against each other in different categories. The person who performs and channels the essence of the category best - wins. This isn’t just about makeup or costume, it’s about attitude, energy. There is an extensive list of categories that has steadily grown over time in response to the community needs and desires.
There are six fundamental categories in Ballroom, the rest of the categories we see are sort of variations on these main six:
If you want to look at the categories in more detail, the Youtube Channel Old School Ballroom is really amazing for this.
Here’s the 1997 Prestige Ball flyer to give you an idea of how the categories work, note that they are grouped by gender.
Here’s a poster from a more recent Lunatic Ball
A lot of the lingo that originated in Ballroom has been absorbed into mainstream LGBTQIA+ culture. Having said “originated”, we are not clear on the exact origins of these phrases but they have certainly been popularised through ballroom. We refer back to that phrase that was circulating a while ago along the lines of: White gay men stealing from Black gay men, stealing from Black girls.
For more on this you can refer to The Queen’s English by Chloe O.Davis (Book). It details the English words and phrases created and used by LGBTQIA+ community and their evolution over time.
The following is a list of Ballroom Terminology created by the House of Naphtali. We have copy pasted it here for ease but do go and check out their website as it’s a treasure trove of info about Ballroom: https://houseofnaphtali.tripod.com/id3.html
VOGUE - CABULARY
A Vogue Femme performer with softer and daintier execution
A category solely dedicated to the dexterity and coordination of ones "slight-of-hand" arm and wrist movements; hand tricks and illusions
When one voguer challenges another, in or out of a ball
A floor pose that consists of positioning the forearms flat on the floor, legs over the head, with feet planted to the floor in front
Upright Vogue Femme sashaying
A contortion involving the arms manipulated up over the head and down behind ones back, keeping the hands locked together.
A Vogue Femme performer with dramatic and stunt-filled execution
In vogueing, a ground-level stunt
Crouching, foot-sliding and scooting movement requiring balance on the balls of the feet. Sashaying in a squatted position
An extreme backbend dip where your butt touches your head
Illusions, precision, or flamboyant interpretation executed through that part of the body; see also Arms Control
An "Old Way" dip, inspired by a mannequin in a Kansai Yamamoto boutique window (NYC, circa '70s)
Jerky, tense movement of the body, also Popping; also, in a vogue battle, pinning or restraining an opponent with part of your body while performing
A dance performed by banjie or straight boys that combined vogueing arm movements with break dance floor work, named after the now defunct New York dance club where it was practiced (The Loft)
A "suicide" dip, requiring a fall to the floor, landing on the back, using one leg as a lever; a prat fall
The vogueing styles starting in the 90's. Includes Arms Control, with body contortions.
The vogueing styles previous to the 80's. See also Pop, Dip and Spin
Freeze frame, staccato-like movement
Pop, Dip and Spin
An earlier name for the dance now called vogueing, with a style leaning toward graceful acrobats, and transitions that alternate between standing and floor positions;
Several voguers performing together, tiered one in front of the other
Martial art inspired Old Way dip, requiring a prone position, with one leg dangling over the head
Exclaimed by an emcee when a contestant executes a suicide dip. See also Makeveli
A category created to test your sharp wit in the art of insults. Contestants are often made to sit in separate chairs and exchange turns at the mic to "roast" each other. Thin- skinned patrons need not apply! Also "Reading", or "Deadly Daggers"
A more recent name given to a dance that has been evolving since the late 60's. Not to be confused with drag, lip syncing, or posing (all separate categories)
A dance style that takes the femme queen technique and exaggerates it even further: pronounced hip movement, cha-cha-based footwork (often in stocking-feet for maximum slide), peppered with classic striptease gestures. Execution ranges from soft and dainty to dramatic and severe
Open To All (OTA)
Does not designate gender or persuasion, but you may have to meet other requirements, such as a specific prop or costume.
For runway contestants, the tall division, regardless to gender
The street-savvy look; also, looking like "rough trade"
A tie breaker; a chance for the contestant to show up his opponent. (See also Vogue- cabulary)
A class of ball competitors, usually 250 lbs. and over; "Luscious" for the ladies
A challenge; call of defiance; "Come on down, you're the next contestant..." Sometimes contestants are allowed to "call out" a rival
A masculine female, usually lesbian
A gay male, ranging from "straight acting" to flamboyant
BQ in Drag
A gay male in women's clothes that is not taking hormones. Some can actually pass for women, but this is not required unless specified by the category
Clever rhymes and raps used by the emcee to liven up an competition
To disqualify (as in contestant); process of elimination..."Thank you, have a nice day." Also "pack"
Come (for) To challenge; "Don't come for me, 'cause you don't want it..."
Obtained by illegal means- credit card or check writing scams usually; "Miss Thing, that Galliano gown was crafted..."; also Stunkus
Ultra feminine; also, interchangeable with "ovah"
A category for aspiring designers and home sewers. "The garment must be made by YOU!"
A house leader (without regard to gender)
To be totally absorbed in the moment
The opening ceremonies. The hosting house's members are introduced, along with the categories they represent. Mother and Father are introduced last, for maximum effect
A title paired with a particular category winner, either currently or consistently. Examples include: label god (always "serves" this category- head to toe, and often layers), and face goddess (dare anyone defy her?)
A social group, clique, club, posse, family, fraternity (usually gay)
A ballroom history maker; beyond the status of a Legend.
Noun: a close pal; adjective: characterized by favoritism, as in a judge that gives high scores based on friendship.
A multi- trophy winner, with a ballroom history; A veteran
(Rhymes with "give") to enjoy oneself immensely; "I lived at that last ball!"
For runway contestants, the petite or short division; anyone shorter than male/female model industry standards
Shoplifting Model's vs. Luscious (Body)
Two separate female or FQ categories, the later leans toward full-figured
Model's vs. Muscular (Body)
Two separate male categories, the later leans toward bodybuilding
Variation of "over", meaning "very impressive", also "cunty" or "sickening"; "legendary" on occasion
To ignore and move on, as in an unfavorable judges' decision; "Pay it. We'll get her after the ball"
A runway stunt in which you remove garment layers gracefully, down to your best ensemble
That son or daughter most likely to take the lead as mother or father, should the current parents not continue their role; "Heir to the Throne"
To greatly surpass in performance. Also "destroy"
The art of insults; finding a flaw in your opponent and verbally showcasing and exaggerating it (also "Deadly Daggers"); giving someone a "piece of your mind"
Someone currently known for winning a particular category. Rulers come and go, but Legends are forever!
An undesirable person, or described as such; low rated
Underhanded dealings, where usually the "jokes on you"; "Judge number two threw me shade..."
An up-and-coming Legend; a frequent winner that is making a name for themselves
An up-and-coming Star; not always winning, but frequently "getting your tens".
To make a grand show; bring the ballroom to its feet; also "work", "sell" and "serve"(all usually accompanied by "goddammit" or "bitch")
Fictional character created to represent unfavorable elements of the ball scene: excessive shade, petty bickering, etc.
First-timer, never walked (a particular category) ever.
To enter a category; "Miss Thing, you should not walk for "Face"...
For more on Ballroom terminology and categories you can follow the below links:
Ballroom Glossary 2: https://www.portlandmercury.com/feature/ 2017/12/06/19526383/ballroom-glossary