Ballroom: The defining QTPOC subculture

We are closing out series two with the defining QTPOC subculture, ballroom.

'Serve’, ‘read’, or ‘throwing shade’ – whether first heard from the lips of queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race, or from sassy teens on TikTok, these terms have become part of English slang. But if you were to ask the lion’s share of people using them where they originally came from, we’d wager that most wouldn’t be able to tell you.

Its roots extend back as far as the late 1960s when, in response to racism they experienced in the white-dominated drag pageant scene, Black trans queens Crystal and Asia LaBeija made the bold decision to found a by-us-for-us space. Initially incubated in community halls and nightclubs across Harlem and Downtown Manhattan, ballroom has gone on to inform contemporary culture across the globe – not just nightlife, but also music, fashion, television and language itself. 

But conversations around appropriation and compensation have reached a flashpoint, with members of the scene calling for acknowledgement, fairer treatment and a deeper understanding of ballroom’s history.

In this week’s episode of i-Dentity, we join i-D’s senior fashion features editor Mahoro Seward, as they speak with Alex Mugler, a legendary voguer and choreographer, on the infrastructure of the ballroom community; Venus X delves into the story behind, GHE20G0TH1K, the club night she co-founded, while also unpacking the the exploitative nature of ballroom’s relationship with the culture mainstream; MikeQ, one of the eminent producers of vogue beats and globally esteemed DJ, explores the development of ballroom music and his experiences at the early GHE20G0TH1K’s parties; and Ricky Tucker, a New York-based writer, academic and ballroom superfan gives us the backstory on ballroom’s history and enduring capacity for liberation. 

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