Dream Queens: ‘Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of NYC 1989-92’

Now here’s something that was sure to be found in the more fabulous Christmas stockings this past festive seasons. Published by the respected London-based record label Soul Jazz, Voguing: Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 is a collection of photographs by Chantal Regnault documenting the titular scene just as it gained worldwide attention thanks to the likes of Malcolm McLaren and Madonna.

Don’t be fooled if you think that voguing was a mere fad that came from nowhere to disappear just as fast as it sprung up 20-odd years ago. Yes, Madonna brought the dance form to the public consciousness, but if you think she invented it, then child, you need educatin’. Voguing started in Harlem in the 60s, where black and latino drag queens and transexuals had started to host their own balls (beauty pageants) outside of white society, and pioneered a new form of dance based on poses copied from Vogue magazine.

But the history of the drag and gay ballroom scene goes back much further than that - by about another hundred years, as explained by noted author and disco historian Tim Lawrence, in his foreword to this book:

Harlem’s Hamilton Lodge staged its first queer masquerade ball in 1869, and some twenty years later a medical student stumbled into another ball that was taking place Walhalla Hall on the Lower East Side. He witnessed 500 same-sex male and female couples ‘waltzing sedately to the music of a good band.

How things have changed - the modern voguing ballroom scene is/was anything but sedate! Lawrence goes on to put into context the concept of a “house” (in effect a surrogate gay family or gang), which has long been a central aspect of vogue and drag culture:

Referencing the glamorous fashion houses whose glamour and style they admired, other black drag queens started to form drag houses, or families that, headed by a mother and sometimes a father, would socialise, look after each other, and prepare for balls (including ones they would host and ones they would attend).


The establishment of the houses also paralleled the twists and turns of New York’s gangs, which flourished between the mid 1940s and the mid 1960s as the city shifted from an industrial to a post-industrial base while dealing with the upheavals of urban renewal, slum clearances and ethnic migration. As historian Eric Schneider argues, gangs appealed to alienated adolescents who wanted to earn money as well as peer group prestige.

Despite the faddish nature of Madonna’s daliance with this scene, voguing and ballroom documentaries like Wolfgang Busch’s How Do I Look and Jennie Livingston’s Paris Is Burning (not to mention performers like the late Willi Ninja and his extant House of Ninja) have done much to establish the history of this world and inspire new generations to take part. And it’s not hard to see the appeal - in a recent interview with The Guardian, Chantal Regnault eplained how voguing and its culture helped re-invigorate New York’s nightlife at the peak of the AIDS crisis:

...the Ball phenomena kind of revived New York nightlife, which had shrunk drastically as the first wave of AIDS related sicknessses were decimating the community. The Queens became the stars of the straight New York clubs, and began to be recognized, appreciated and photographed. They appeared on TV shows and were interviewed by TV icons. The voguers also became a big attraction and soon everybody wanted to emulate their dancing style. Two figures were instrumental in launching the trend in the awakened downtown clubs: Susanne Bartsch and Chichi Valenti, two straight white females who both had a knack for the new and fabulous and a big social network.

Why 1989-1992? What happened next?

1989-1992 was the peak of creativity and popularity for the ballroom scene, and when the mainstream attention faded away, the original black and Latino gay ballroom culture didn’t die. On the contrary, it became a national phenomena as Houses started to have “chapters” all over the big cities of the United States. But I was not a direct witness to most of it as I moved to Haiti in 1993.

As Regnault states voguing is still going strong today, with balls in many of America (and the world’s) largest cities, and this book is a perfect introduction to a compelling, not to mention often over-looked, aspect of gay and black history. Regnault managed to capture some of the most recognisable faces from that world showing off in all their finery, while there are fascinating interviews with some of the key players like Muhammed Omni, Hector Xtravaganza, Tommie Labeija and more. Voguing And The House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 is quite simply an essential purchase for fans of underground culture.

Avis Pendavis, 1991

Cesar Valentino (right), Copacabana, 1990

RuPaul, Red Zone 1990
Voguing: Voguing and the House Ballroom Scene of New York City 1989-92 by Chantal Reignault (with an introduction by Tim Lawrence) is available to buy from Soul Jazz Records.

With thanks to Legendary Ballroom Scene for the scans.

Previously on Dangerous Minds
‘Paris Is Burning’: Vogue Realness

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
The roots of OWS: Black power documentary captures the birth of a movement

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 directed by Göran Hugo Olsson is a timely documentary on the birth of the Black Power Movement that combines recently discovered film footage and interviews from the the 1960s and early 70s with commentary from contemporary Black activists and musicians.

Shot in stunning 16mm black and white and color by a Swedish film crew at the height of civil unrest over Vietnam and racial inequality in America, BPM features compelling interviews with Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis, Huey Newton and other key activists of the period, interspersed with powerful scenes of ghetto life in Oakland and Harlem. Both poetic and potent, the film manages to stir the heart without resorting to hyperbole or cheap sentiment. The subject matter is powerful enough on its own. The images and words speak for themselves…and they speak eloquently.

The only sour moment in the film is when a reptilian Louis Farrakhan spews the Nation Of Islam company line, silver tongue wrapping itself around every vowel like a dung beetle rolling in it’s own excrement and eyes leering with the lascivious gleam of an encyclopedia salesman looking to slip his sweaty hands under the apron of an unsuspecting suburban housewife And Malcolm died for this fucker’s sins.

As scenes unfold on the screen, personal reflections on the era and its influence on their lives and thinking are shared by Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, ?uestlove, John Forté and Robin Kelley, among others. These were formative decades for a new generation of Black American activists, artists and teachers and the inspiration of the The Black Panthers, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Bobby Kennedy endures.

I have my own memories of this pivotal period in American history. I recall one of my first acts of becoming politically engaged. I was 17 and living in Berkeley. It was 1968. I went to The Black Panther headquarters, an aging, two-story, clapboard house in Oakland, and asked them what I could do to help. After getting over their initial amusement of seeing a skinny, long-haired, white boy standing in their office, two Panthers engaged me in conversation, curious to know my motivations. I told them I’d just read Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul On Ice” and had been inspired by it, enough to do whatever I could to make the world a more just place. They handed me a stack of The Black Panther Newsletter and sent me out the door. I became a paperboy for the revolution.

While I watched BPM, the parallels between the civil rights and anti-war actions of the 1960s with the current Occupy Wall Street movement were quite obvious. We are still fighting the good fight…and it never seems to end. We make small inroads toward justice and then are slapped back down. But there is forward movement. Historically, popular uprisings that become the target of government suppression may falter but they always find a way to re-invent, resurrect and re-engage. We are seeing it play out at this very moment as the OWS survives against all efforts by the government and its police force to extinguish it. The success of the uprisings of the Sixties remind us that people DO have the power. Listening to and watching the speeches of Stokely Carmichael and Martin Luther King (the night before he was assassinated) not only made me feel proud to have been in the crux of it all at the time, it emboldened me to continue the fight and also angered me in knowing that there is still a fight to be fought. 

The Black Power Mixtape is currently available for instant viewing on Netflix.

Unjustly imprisoned for being an accessory to the murder of a Judge, Angela Davis discusses violence and revolution in this jail cell interview from BPM. Not long after this interview, Davis was acquitted of all charges against her.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Hip-hop film nostalgia: video for Lupe Fiasco’s ‘Double Burger With Cheese’
08:40 pm

Pop Culture


”...and he said nobody cared…”: Ice Cube as Doughboy in Boyz N The Hood
What’s the best way to capture in video the spirit of a song like Lupe Fiasco’s late-20th-century-black-street-reality-cinema-surveying “Double Burger With Cheese” from his Friend of the People mixtape [download]?

Somebody figured it out over at beat cartel Dolobeats (and if it was proprietor/prolific beatmaker Dolo himself, I’m pretty fucking impressed): synch the song up to every goddamn movie clip that Lu casually references in the song.

This thing juxtaposes clips from such iconic films as Juice, Menace II Society, Boyz N The Hood, New Jersey Drive, Poetic Justice, Dead Presidents, South Central, Sugar Hill, New Jack City, Paid In Full and Colors.

“These are just a illustration / Of a few scenes that helped raise a generation…”

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Discussion
Reggae legends Culture performing live in 1987
08:31 pm


Two Sevens Clash

Rastafarians Joseph Hill, Albert Walker and Kenneth Dayes recorded one of the seminal reggae albums of all time, 1977’s deeply soulful and rootsy Two Sevens Clash. With their raw and elemental sound, Culture were a significant influence on Britain’s exploding punk and ska scene.

Propelled by the relentless grooves of Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, Two Sevens Clash is pure reggae with a heavy dose of Rastafari gospel—one of the truly indispensable records to come out of Jamaica.

I had the pleasure of seeing Culture play in New York City in the late-80s and it was one of the most splendid live shows I’ve ever seen—passionate, powerful and uplifting.

This is a terrific performance by Culture from July 19, 1987. They’re playing in Woodbury, Connecticut. The visual quality of the video isn’t great but the audio is more than solid.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
Sammy Davis Jr. in Vietnam: Documentary from 1972
12:57 pm


Sammy Davis Jr.

I’ve always loved Sammy Davis Jr. As a kid, I read his 1965 autobiography “Yes I Can” and as an adult I still have a deep fondness for his upbeat, groovy, vibe.

Sammy Davis, Jr. went to Vietnam in 1972 as a representative of President Nixon’s Special Action Office For Drug Abuse Prevention. Davis was there to observe the military drug abuse rehabilitation program, and talk to and entertain the troops.

Sammy was a peacenik. “I was so opposed to the war in Vietnam that I initially refused President Nixon’s urgings for me to go there.”  But, he ended up going to entertain the troops.

Davis walked a fine line between being perceived as a House Negro for The White House and, in my opinion, a saavy infiltrator who instigated change from within.

For Davis, his role as a high-profile Black entertainer with a desire to change the tone of American society found him engaged in a delicate balancing act between winning hearts and minds while still sticking to his core beliefs of racial equality, peace, love and understanding at a time when the USA was deeply divided along race lines as well as pro-war and anti-war factions.

“Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to go and get insulted.”

He got shit from all sides, called an “Uncle Tom” by some Blacks, hated by whites for marrying a white woman, and ostracized by trendoids for being a faux hipster, he defied them all by letting his talent do the talking.

In the following footage, you see Davis, working with a bare bones production, a trio of back-up dancers and a small band, creating some dynamite energy. It’s like a chitlin circuit roadhouse review compared to Bob Hope’s lavish USO tours. In one scene, Davis sings for a small group of soldiers working with nothing but a microphone and a drummer - no band, no backing tracks.

Davis chooses his words very carefully while discussing Vietnam and the drug issue. 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
George Jackson: Soledad Brother 40 years later

Forty years after his death, George Jackson continues to reflect different things to different people depending on their ideologies and experiences.

To some, Jackson was a renowned author, Marxist, and activist truth-teller who brought the injustices of the American experience in and out of prison into harsh light as the once-vibrant ‘60s faded to a disillusioned and bloody end.

To others, he was a career criminal and prisoner turned violent radical whose acts and incitements brought misery to many and resulted in the kind of revolutionary martyrdom now worshiped by Islamicists and Tea Party extremists.

In a society that both thrives on a fundamental class-based inequality and manages to keep its prison population of 2 million over 40% black, Jackson remains a figure of some relevance, however legendary. Perhaps the best way to get a picture of the man is to read his words in Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson

On the ideological side of things, here’s George Jackson - 40 year commemoration, a video produced by Jonathan Jackson Jr:

After the jump: George Jackson in context, and Bob Dylan’s salute to the man…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Discussion
Eric Clapton’s DIsgusting Racist Tirade

I was only made aware of this speech by Eric Clapton at a 1976 gig in Birmingham, UK, the other day, but It’s truly disgusting. Here’s a relatively short sample (quoted from Rebel Rock by J. Street (1986) and sourced from New Musical Express, Melody Maker, The Guardian and The Times):

Stop Britain from becoming a black colony. Get the foreigners out. Get the wogs out. Get the coons out. Keep Britain white. I used to be into dope, now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back.

It goes on for a lot longer than that - the entire speech can be heard in the animated YouTube clip below. The “Enoch” Clapton is referring to is the notorious English politician Enoch Powell who in 1968 made the infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech, also in Brimingham. How Clapton didn’t get crucified at the time in the popular press is beyond me, as is the fact that the rest of the concert continued as normal, with no rioting or no bottling. The activist group Rock Against Racism was set up as a direct response to these remarks. Clapton has never properly apologised  - how does he still get away with receiving so much praise and acclaim? Fuck Eric Clapton.  

Thanks to Joe Spencer for alerting me to this.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
‘Nobody Canna Cross It’: Forget Auto-tune, Jamaica’s DJ Powa riddim-izes the news

If you’re looking for some news-video manipulation that’s funkier than the the Gregory Brothers’ oft-annoying high-register hip-pop treatments, you’re in luck. Out of Kingston, Jamaica’s University of Technology comes marketing student Kevin-Sean Hamilton, who as DJ Powa created the tune and video for “Nobody Canna Cross It (Di Bus Can Swim)”, the most viral video to come out of that country.

Cut from a TVJ report on flooding from the Yallahs River in eastern Jamaica’s St. Thomas parish, “Nobody Canna Cross It” spotlights the declarations of river worker Clifton Brown, who Powa’s made into a folk hero with a sick backing track and some deft video editing. It’s a perfect example of the unique way that Jamaicans find humor in bad news—or as they say in patois, “tek serious mek laugh.”

Of course, both Brown and the song  have their own Facebook pages, and thankfully, Kingston-based videographer Simon “Sno” Thompson (a.k.a. Yosef Imagination) is looking to set up a fundraiser to help build that bridge for the people of St. Thomas.

After the jump: DJ Powa’s take on last year’s deadly unrest in Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston…

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Discussion
‘Peanuts’ and race-mixing, 1969
02:05 pm


Charles Schulz

Beloved cartoonist Charles Schulz received this unsigned letter dated November 12, 1969 concerning the new addition of “Franklin,” the first black character appearing in “Peanuts.” How strange this seems now, but just imagine the uproar on FOX News if a gay kid was added to the gang today.

We know Bryan Fischer would hate it. But haters gonna hate, what can you do?

Click here to view larger image.

United Feature Syndicate
220 East 42nd Street
New York, N.Y. 10017


In today’s “Peanuts” comic strip Negro and white children are portrayed together in school.

School integration is a sensitive subject here, particularly at this time when our city and county schools are under court order for massive compulsory race mixing.

We would appreciate it if future “Peanuts” strips did not have this type of content.

Thank you.

Here’s a link to an article written by Chris Haft, now a sportswriter for The Cincinnati Enquirer, about his youthful correspondence with Charles Schultz about why there were no black kids in “Peanuts”.

(via reddit)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
Graffiti Rock: Hip-hop storms America’s living rooms in 1984

Graffiti Rock‘s Michael Holman and DJ Jimmy Jazz
Before Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City hit the markets in the late ‘80s, New York culture maven Michael Holman first made the move to put hip-hop culture on TV with the show Graffiti Rock.

In 1984, Holman—who played music with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Vincent Gallo in the legendarily obscure band Grey—got a bunch of banker friends to put together $150,000 to shoot the pilot for the series at Madison Ave. and 106th St. It screened on WPIX channel 11 in June 1984.

Holman turned the show into a seminar on the culture. Alongside future superstars Run D.M.C., Kool Moe Dee and Shannon—and cameos by “Prince Vince” Gallo and Debi Mazar—he featured his own crew the New York City Breakers, pieces by graf artist Brim, and hilarious slang translations. For the time, the show is pretty slick and ready for prime-time. Holman picks up the tragic story from there

So the show airs and actually does much better than people thought! We got great ratings and aired in 88 syndicated markets, nationwide. But when we went to Las Vegas to sell the show at NAPTE (National Association of Producers of Television Entertainment) we hit a wall. First, the station managers (the people responsible for purchasing new shows in their markets) didn’t understand why “Graffiti Rock,” and hip hop was different to what Soul Train was offering. Secondly, certain stations wouldn’t take the chance to buy “Graffiti Rock,” unless other, larger markets did first. Chicago was waiting on L.A. to bite, and L.A. was waiting on New York. But the major New York syndicated stations at the time, were controlled by unsavory characters, and they wanted money under the table to put the show on the air! My main investors refused to deal with these forces (I of course would have done whatever I had to to get it on the air, and am still pissed they didn’t play along!)...

Graffiti Rock proved a legendary snapshot into what hip-hop TV was about to be. What a shot in the arm it would have been for the culture. Gnarls Barkley would later lovingly spoof Holman and the show for the video for their 2008 hit “Run” and before that, the Beastie Boys sampled Holman’s excellent little seminar on scratching in pt. 2 on their tune “Alright Hear This.”

I’ll leave part 3 of the YouTube of Graffiti Rock off this post in an appeal for you to reward a culture hero like Holman by buying the DVD.

After the jump: more Graffiti Rock

Posted by Ron Nachmann | Discussion
Page 7 of 11 ‹ First  < 5 6 7 8 9 >  Last ›