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Less Waltz, More Vogue: A Look Into LGBTQ Ball Culture

Striking a pose on the runway is both a competition and an unapologetic embrace of one another.

June 14, 2018

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.

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

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.”     


Aileen Imperial

Aileen Imperial is a multimedia and documentary producer with a commitment to thoughtful observation and engagement. Her work has aired nationally on the PBS American Masters series, PBS NewsHour, and she is a 4-time Emmy winner for feature videos in the Arts, Culture, and Human Interest. Find her on Twitter: @imperealize

More stories by Aileen Imperial

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is a 25-year veteran of KCTS, producing a wide range of cultural and public affairs series, documentaries and arts programming.  His credits include PIE, Something in the Water  (PBS feature on Seattle’s indie music scene), the gala opening of Benaroya Hall, and documentaries on Asahel and Edward Curtis, Dan Sullivan and Doris Chase.  Seattle-born, Hegg is a graduate of Whitworth University and is also an accomplished violinist and avid cyclist.

More stories by Stephen Hegg