Old Skool Ball Music (aka Great Warm Up Beatz)

Looking for something to get you in the mood for the catwalk? Need a warm-up before rehearsals? Are you playing Deity and need a hot take on the genealogy of ball music?Check it…

1. Tronco Traxx’s classic 90s ball scene dance track “Walk 4 Me” (1995) Serve! Butch queen up in pumps! This one is referenced directly in the play, but Tronco Traxx had several other ball tracks that also reached instant classic status (see more below).

2. David Ian Xtravaganza in David DePino’s mix of “Elements of Vogue” (1989). David DePino was the honorary DJ of House of Xtravaganza, and was frequently spinning at the Paradise Garage and Tracks, two clubs popular with legendary House voguers. It’s estimated that 2500-3000 dancers would show up to to DePino’s sets at Tracks on Tuesday nights. “Tracks was very gay, very streetwise and rather hardcore. Not sissy but cunty [or a form of exaggerated, clever, powerful femininity]. It was black and Latin gay, plus women, mostly dykes” (Adam Goldstone, a Tracks regular).

3. Famed producer Malcolm McClaren partnered with Bootzilla Orchestra for “Deep in Vogue,” (1989) featuring the vogue performances of Willi Ninja, whom he knew through DJ Johnny Dynell (a member of House of Xtravaganza).

Of course, all these PRE-DATE Madonna’s visits to the Tracks club and her borrowing of ball culture in her song and video for “Vogue” (1990), which featured Luis and Jose Xtravaganza as dancers, and lifted drum and synth patterns from “Elements of Vogue” (above).

4. Two other Tronco Traxx hits for your playlist are the 1996 “Runway (As a House)” and “C.U.N.T. (She’s Cunt, She’s Pussy). FactMag’s Naill Connolly says said of these tracks:

The raw 909 beats and campy-but-cutting vocal chants, incorporating a lot of gay/black/drag slang and runway instructions, are elements that are still very prevalent in the genre today.

“I love both of those tunes but ‘Runway (As A House)’ is Tronco’s forgotten classic in my eyes. It uses the elements I’ve described above, but adds a bit more sheen, and most importantly of all, it uses the infamous “HA” sound that has become synonymous with ballroom, vogue femme dance styles and the signature “dip” move. The “HA” sound was originally used by Masters At Work in 1991’s seminal ‘The Ha Dance’, and can still be heard all over ballroom nearly 25 years later, most notably on MikeQ’s ‘The Ha Dub Rewerk’d’ on Fade To Mind, and Kingdom’s ‘Stalker Ha’.

Ball Vocab 5: Details on Styles of Performance

In this series of “Ball Vocab” posts, the vocabulary and descriptions have been adapted from several excellent and comprehensive lists maintained by House of Enigma, and reorganized here for ease of use in the rehearsal room. Terms in red appear in the playtext. Please note that definitions and slang are, by nature, flexible, and may change in specificity or connotation depending on who you’re talking to.  Lists are not comprehensive.

{Links in the text below provide video examples of dance,
competitions, and music.}

A wide range of styles has evolved over the years. There are two main divisions: “Old Way” (60’s, 70’s and 80’s) and “New Way” (90’s and beyond). Also, BQ (Butch Queen) technique is traditionally separate from that of the FQs (Femme Queens), with styles loosely based at opposite ends of the masculine/feminine continuum.

Old Way Performance deals more with style and acrobats, like its younger cousin breaking (breakdancing), but can still be dissected even further. In the earlier days, break dancers would “clash” with the voguers at places like New York’s Central Park or Washington Square Park, and the exchanges of techniques developed an odd but respectable rapport between the two groups. The results of these exchanges created “Lofting,” named after the now defunct New York club “The Loft,” where you could find the closeted and otherwise “banjie” boys combining vogue arm movements with their break dance floor work. This would then lead to ball categories such as Lofting vs. Pop Dip and Spin.

Pop Dip and Spin was developed as a result of BQs combining FQ technique with break dance moves. Back then, the FQs performance was characterized by freeze-frame poses and fluid hand and arm movements, but never dipping — they didn’t want to risk ruining their hair, makeup and/or gowns. But the BQs weren’t “dolled up,” so they had more freedom of movement, and could take it to an extreme. The battle-like aspect was further displayed through actually locking and pinning the opponent, while still maintaining a graceful performance.

New Way involves displaying ones physical flexibility, coupled with slight-of-hand arm and wrist illusions. “Arms Control” plays a large role, as the practitioners’ limbs become kinetic sculptures or the gears and mechanisms in an amusement park ride. While Old Way encourages “in your face” action, New Way vets usually aren’t allowed to touch their opponents. The battle is rendered through exhibition. The constant evolution of the dance widens the New Way range, but the styles prior to the 80’s will always be classified as Old Way.

A new generation of BQ’s, however, has created yet another category, by taking FQ technique and exaggerating it even further: BQ Vogueing Femme. Catwalking (upright sashaying) and duck-walking (a squatting/scooting/bouncing motion) dominates. Lunges, dives and other “suicide” dips are incorporated, in an attempt to accent the surprise sound effects that strike throughout certain dance tracks (i.e., Jim Carey’s dance remix of “Cuban Pete”; George Kantz’s 80’s classic,”Din Da Da“; Masters At Work’s crowd pleaser, “The Ha Dance“; and Kevin Aviance’s anthem, “Cunty“). The emphasis is on how flamboyant one can be through movement alone. These competitions are often divided between the soft/dainty performers (“Angels” or “Soft and Cunt”) and the “drama” queens that incorporate BQ-based antics (“Devils” or “Dramatics”).

Ball Vocab 3: Ways of Describing Participants

In this series of “Ball Vocab” posts, the vocabulary and descriptions have been adapted from several excellent and comprehensive lists maintained by House of Enigma, and reorganized here for ease of use in the rehearsal room. Terms in red appear in the playtext. Please note that definitions and slang are, by nature, flexible, and may change in specificity or connotation depending on who you’re talking to.  Lists are not comprehensive.

A Vogue Femme performer with softer and daintier execution

Banjy (adjective)
The street-savvy look; also, looking like “rough trade.”  (Also spelled: banjee)

Ultra feminine; also, interchangeable with “ovah”

A Vogue Femme performer with dramatic and stunt-filled execution

Fishy (adj.)
To look like a woman, Not like a man dressed like a woman. “Fish” is used to denote authenticity.

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 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; known to all

Variation of “over,” meaning “very impressive,” also “cunty” or “sickening”; “legendary” on occasion

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

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.”

First-timer, never walked (a particular category) ever.

Ball Vocab 2: Competition Categories

In this series of “Ball Vocab” posts, the vocabulary and descriptions have been adapted from several excellent and comprehensive lists maintained by House of Enigma, and reorganized here for ease of use in the rehearsal room. Terms in red appear in the playtext. Please note that definitions and slang are, by nature, flexible, and may change in specificity or connotation depending on who you’re talking to. Lists are not comprehensive.


Whatever categories are offered, contestants must adhere to the requirements given, to avoid disqualification or low scoring (getting “chopped”) before an eagerly cheering and jeering audience (a vicious “Gong Show,” if you will). This brings about the question of “shade”: who’s throwing it and how much. Judges can be quite finicky when it comes to exact interpretation, and it’s up to the emcee or a head judge to settle disputes that may erupt from time to time. Generally, everyone’s a good sport, but you do get poor losers here and there.

For runway contestants, the tall division, regardless to gender

Arms Control
A category solely dedicated to the dexterity and coordination of ones “sleight-of-hand” arm and wrist movements; hand tricks and illusions

Big Boy/Girl
A class of ball competitors, usually 250 lbs. and over; “Luscious” for the ladies

Offers the widest range of creativity and display. From “Futuristic” to “Fantasy,” the objective is to always present an elaborate costume and effect. There are specific favorites like “Foil vs. Plastic,” but often the category is more general in scope.

The judges will be looking for someone who looks attractive, and healthy. Do not confuse this with sexiness, as there is a completely different category for that.

Butch Queen (BQ)
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

Commentator vs. Commentator
Allows aspiring (and current) MCs to showcase their ability to hype the crowd

Designers’ Delite
A category for aspiring designers and home sewers. “The garment must be made by YOU!”

Like Vogue Femme, with spins into dips only

A category to determine who has a classically beautiful face. Judges examine the eyes, the nose, the teeth, the lips and the structure of the face. While the category may call for an effect, ultimately the judges will only look at the face of a competitor, which should not have much makeup and should appear flawless.

Grand Prize
Usually requires the efforts of 3 or more people per entry. You may have to create a skit, or put on some type of production in the theme of the event. Close attention must be paid to costume, music, props and overall showmanship. This is one of many categories that can bring a ballroom to its feet, when you consider the lengths that contestants will go to satisfy a frenzied crowd.

Male Body (Men or BQ)
“Muscular” (body builders) vs “Models” (not as beefy; magazine quality)

Male Face (Men or BQ)
“Masculine” (allows groomed facial hair) vs “Pretty Boy” (smooth and clear complexion). Sometimes “Face” is further divided between “Light and Lovely” vs “Brown and Lovely” vs “Dark and Lovely”

For runway contestants, the petite or short division; anyone shorter than male/female model industry standards

Male: Models vs. Muscular Body
Two separate categories, the later leans toward bodybuilding

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.

Role playing down to the smallest of details. For example, if the category is “FQ Realness,” all traces of one’s biological maleness must be virtually erased (or at least hidden). In contrast, “BQ Realness” requires complete camouflage of anything remotely perceived as “gay”: you appear to be a straight man. Realness With a Twist (Twister) – Judged on participants’ ability to blend in with heterosexuals, then returning in vogue

Runway/Models Effect
Requirements vary greatly, with contestants displaying home-sewn garments (“Designer’s Delight”) or high fashion ready-to-wear like Prada or Gucci (“Labels”). Sometimes the contestants are judged solely on their walking ability. In these instances, you are free to choose any outfit that will make you “feel it.” Some subcategories: European Runway – Often a butch-queen category, featuring effects seen in a European fashion show. American Runway – Similar to European Runway, featuring butch queens, trans men or Butches/Studs

Sex Siren
Participants will do their best to tease, and titillate the judges. Some do so by stripping all their clothes off, others do it through erotic dancing, and some combine the two in order to attempt to win

• Not to be confused with drag, lip syncing, or posing (all separate categories)
• Stylized jazz dance created by the african american gay community, with its own separate divisions and requirements.
• A true voguer SEAMLESSLY combines the disciplines of a diverse range of movement: martial arts, jazz/modern dance, gymnastics and yoga, among others. Beyond this, there is still a particular execution that distinguishes vogueing from other dances. Structured around distinct hand and arm movements, the voguer must keep time with the beat of the music, as well as accentuate the various changes in the music. Improvisation is driven by the build-up and break-down of baselines, rhythms, sound effects and vocals.
• Starting out as a category called “Performance,” the dance took on the name “Vogue” during the late 70’s, when practitioners started borrowing ideas from the more extreme photo layouts of current fashion magazines.

Vogueing Femme
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

Verbal Vogue
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”

Women’s Face (Female or FQ)
“Painted” (allows makeup) vs “Unpainted” (no makeup)

Women’s Body (Female or FQ)
• “Luscious” (full-figured, but sexy) vs “Models” (swimsuit quality)
• “Shoplifting Models” vs. “Luscious” full-figured, but sexy)

Getting Our Histor(ies)

The history of the 1980s ball scene, and the genealogy of voguing, is a contested one — it changes depending on who you talk to, and what their stakes are in the version they’re telling. For example, voguing originated at Rikers Island jail; or Paris Dupree created it at a downtown club while throwing shade at other queens; or it was a form of dance influenced by Egyptian hieroglyphics; etc. Similarly, the competitions between houses, who was on top and who was on the outs, who can lay claim to which innovations — these moments also shift, depending on the allegiances of the person recounting the events. For this reason, our production process is interested in embracing the idea of “histories” rather than “history.” There are multiple truths, multiple genealogies and ways of understanding the lasting influences of the ball scene on modern pop culture.

One fantastic resource we’ve found is the 2011 book Voguing, with photos and interviews of iconic members of the ball scene by Chantal Regnault. (And here’s an interview with her, about her work documenting them.) The book not only has exquisite photography, but the wide-ranging collection of first person narratives — in all their contradictions and moments of shade — give us a sense of the many ways of understanding the historical underpinnings of a subculture built on competition and belonging. Sadly, the book is now out of print, though may be found in libraries and used bookstores.

Of particular interest is the book’s introduction by Tim Lawrence, titled “‘Listen, and you will hear all the houses that walked there before’: A history of drag balls, houses and the culture of voguing.” This long-read piece provides some deep research into early 20th century drag balls, and the shifts of the 1970s that led black and brown ball participants to form their own events and networks. We recommend reading this one if you’re able. Members of our production’s cast and creative team can find a password-protected scan of the essay in the “Art Books” section of this website (located in the “C1 Biz” drop-down menu). …Sorry we can’t provide access to the world at large!


Photo by Chantal Regnault

Choreography Starter Pack

Thanks to choreographer Alex Davis, we have a collection of videos that are forming the baseline for our ensemble movement work. Check it:

For the Fates…
Spike Lee’s School DaZE & Destiny’s Child’s “Lose My Breath”

And Javier Ninja: What is Vogue?