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Voguing and the Ballroom Scene of New York 1989-92: Photographs by Chantal Regnault

Voguing and the Ballroom Scene of New York 1989-92: Photographs by Chantal Regnault

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Harlem’s gay ball subculture of the late 1980s is superbly documented in this trove of previously unseen photographs.

Paris Is Burning documented a gay ballroom scene that emerged in Harlem in the mid-1980s, which drew African American and Latino gay and transgender communities to compete against one another for their dancing skills, the verisimilitude of their drag and their ability to walk on the runway.

A visual riot of fashion, polysexuality and subversive style, Voguing and the Ballroom Scene of New York 1989–1992 is also an extraordinary document on sexuality and race.


"Growing out of the drag queen ritual of throwing 'shade', or subtly insulting another queen, voguing emerged as a distinctive dance of first the houses and then, inevitably, the balls, where specific voguing categories were eventually introduced. 'It all started at an after hours club called Footsteps on 2nd Avenue and 14th Street,' says David DePino, an influential DJ for the voguing community. 'Paris Dupree was there and a bunch of these black queens were throwing shade at each other.

Paris had a Vogue magazine in her bag, and while she was dancing she took it out, opened it up to a page where a model was posing and then stopped in that pose on the beat. Then she turned to the next page and stopped in the new pose, again on the beat.' The provocation was returned in kind. 'Another queen came up and did another pose in front of Paris, and then Paris went in front of her and did another pose,' adds DePino. 'This was all shade—they were trying to make a prettier pose than each other—and it soon caught on at the balls. At first they called it posing and then, because it started from Vogue magazine, they called it "voguing."'

An alternative account has it that voguing was first practiced by the black gay inmates of Rikers Island, a New York City jail, who pursued the movement as a way of attracting the attention of boys and throwing shade. 'Maybe they didn't have a name for it, but that's what they were doing, or so it's said,' notes Kevin Ultra Omni. 'I know Paris was an early pioneer of voguing.

But I believe that vogue existed in some other form through other people as well. I also think that a lot of voguing poses come from African art and Egyptian hieroglyphics.'"

- Tim Lawrence, excerpted from the chapter "Listen, and you will hear all the houses that walked there before: A History of Drag Balls, Houses and the Culture of Voguing."


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