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5 min read | Written by Ellis Coopey

There’s gonna be some serious pop, dip and spin next year.

House of Suarez + Contact: Vogue Ball 2020 is fast approaching. Are you ready? Of course not. Don’t worry, we’ve sorted you out with some ball lingo so you can get your shade-game on and show some appreciation.

… ‘Schwam!’

What is voguing?

If you’re like me and stream your education from Netflix, box-sets and general TV, then you might know about voguing from RuPaul’s Drag Race or the FX series, POSE.

However, voguing has much deeper roots.

’40s/50s –  The streets of Harlem were going through troubled times, crime and gang violence were on the rise. During this, gay African-American and Latino Men started to organise balls where drag-ball culture was birthed.  It was a safe place away from street politics and conflict. It allowed the people of Harlem to take ownership and control over the way they expressed themselves.

’80s/90s – Thanks to Madonna’s song titled ‘Vogue’ and the cult documentary Paris is Burning, voguing came strutting out of Harlem and into the mainstream.

The 1990 documentary, Paris is Burning was named after Paris Dupree’s 1986 ball of the same name.  Rumour has it, she founded the style when she took out a Vogue magazine from her bag and began posing to the beat of the music. This was first called posing. 

An earlier style was called pop, dip and spin and leaned toward more graceful acrobats and transitions that alternated between standing and floor positions.

’00s/10s –  Since then series such as Glee and American Horror Story have dramatised voguing. Likewise, ball culture also influenced musicians, like Rihanna and Beyoncé. In an interview in 2006, Beyoncé said how inspired she’d been by ball culture in the States, ‘I still have that in me’, she said of the ‘confidence and the fire you see on stage…’

After hearing Beyoncé talk about how much her work has been influenced by ball culture, I can’t help but see that fire and confidence in ‘Single Ladies’. Her alter-ego is Sasha Fierce, after all.

Since then Beyoncé has firmly positioned herself as an LGBTQ+ icon. In her song ‘Formation’ she references ball culture when she sings “Slay… or you get eliminated”.

In ball culture today, there are many styles and categories. Most importantly, houses and solo ‘walkers’, compete to out-do one another in dance and performance by ‘reading’ and ‘throwing shade’.

Reading/Finding a Read

“Reading is the real art form of insult,” explained Venus Xtravaganza in Paris Is Burning. The idea is to ‘see-through’ your opponent’s performance or costume and throw it back at them, in an exaggerated manner. You want to give them a piece of your mind.

    “You get in a smart crack, and everyone laughs and ki-kis [a cheeky laugh] because you found a flaw and exaggerated it then you’ve got a good read going on… Voguing is the same thing. Taking two knives and cutting each other up, but in a dance form.”

    Venus Xtravaganza

    In the ballroom, you’ve failed if someone finds a read on you. Even more, to succeed you want your performance to be so convincing that it becomes invisible as a performance.

    Throwing Shade

    I’m not talking about putting your sunnies on in the rare Manchester sun. Shade is playful and it can also be brutal.

    It’s an art form that developed from reading. First of all, rather than aiming to insult, someone works with the medium of backhanded compliments. As RuPaul says:

    Throwing the perfect shade is about getting creative. As drag queen Dorian Corey once explained in Paris is Burning: “Shade is I don’t tell you you’re ugly, but I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly.”

    Here’s Cher talking about Madonna and serving up something fierce:

      “She’s unbelievably creative—because she’s not unbelievably talented.”

      I could throw you shade-spo all-day, but instead, go and follow The Art of Shade archive on Instagram. It’s probably the best resource for shade. Here’s Prince giving some killer side-eye shade.


      View this post on Instagram


      A post shared by The Archive of Shade (@theartofshade_) on

      Showing your appreciation

      If you see something you like, or someone throws some shade and the burn is singeing your brows, you might want to express your admiration. Here are a few words:

      • Yas: A firm yes! Yas isn’t a word, yas is a scale; the longer the “a” the greater the pleasure expressed. Yaaaaaas!
      • Werk: Shout this loud and often to express your admiration.
      • Fierce: Similar to “werk” meaning something to admire and celebrate.
      • Schwam!: This is what an MC (Master of Ceremonies) says when someone does the death drop. Be careful with this one, or someone might think you want to take their job!

      House of Suarez + Contact: Vogue Ball 2020

      Vogue Ball 2019, image credit FOTOCAD

      Now you’ve got the language why not pop to the ball and drop below the waves to the lost kingdom of Atlantis? Or is that kweendom of Atlantis?

      Sat 29 Feb, 7:00 pm
      Manchester Academy 1, Oxford Road M13 9PR

      Book here