Ball culture describes a young African-American and Latin American underground LGBTQ+ subculture that originated in New York City, in which people “walk” (i.e., compete) for trophies, prizes, and glory at events known as balls. Ball culture consists of events that mix performance, dance, lip-syncing, and modeling — Wikipedia
I had the recent pleasure to witness a mini creative adaption of Ball culture, an exercise inspiring people to walk against a musical soundtrack in different genders and express unique emotions and scenarios. The joy, experimentation, and personal realizations were surprising and, in some instances, profound.
For coaches and therapists who wish to integrate ball culture into their practice, let’s explore the unique multi-dimensional exercise to unearth new truths and spark personal curiosity while ensuring the activity is built inside a psychologically safe container.
The Toronto Gestalt Psychotherapy center hosted the virtual embodiment exploration of gender exercise. Here, everyone is encouraged to participate while recognizing the spectrum; for some people, gender is top of mind, whereas, for others, it is an afterthought. Within the Gestalt therapy context, each individual is welcome to explore Ball culture in their own experience of personal embodiment.
In a safe space, encourage participants to explore their sexuality through movement and sound. The mini Ball culture exercise provides room to perform deep personal work, especially from the lens of childhood, upbringing, and culture.
Given our bodies hold onto memories, for some people, the topic of gender identity is more present than others. Before the activity, remind individuals to stay aware of the shifts, transitions, and sensations occurring within their body in the here and now. And to pay close attention to what happens when in contact with self, out of contact, and everything in between.
Finally, encourage people to use their face, hands, spine, pelvis, feet placement, shoulders, arms — as much of their bodies as they can form a complete experience.
Facilitators, prepare the following either in person or online:
- Ensure everyone has a safe, clutter-free space to walk.
- People can perform the walk any way they chose.
- Adjust video camera to point to the walking space.
- Allow individuals to keep their camera on or off; individual choice.
- Ask participants to feel the polarities of the categories.
- Do not force emotions or sensations; see what comes up.
- There is a performative aspect to the exercise; have fun.
- Facilitators must play inspiring music to accompany the role play. And to remain authentic to Ball, consider selections similar to the proposed list below.
- As the music plays, the Facilitator will call out each category in the below list for attendees to embody and role play/perform the walk: a sensual female.
How can you encourage an authentic mini-ball experience? Wikipedia further explains:
Attendees dance, vogue, walk, pose, and support one another in numerous drag and performance competition categories. Categories are designed to simultaneously epitomize and satirize various genders and social classes, while also offering an escape from reality.
Here is an example from the Latex Ball, 2019; keep in mind the following video is part of an actual competition. Our exercise is a micro-scaled-down version to introduce people to Ball culture.
Now let’s look at potential music tracks to consider for the role-play exercise.
Sound Track Examples
- It’s Just (House of Dupree), Leon Vynehall
I chose this track for two reasons. First, the beat has the perfect rhythm for participants to walk and express themselves. And second, the introduction provides a brief historical context into Ball culture, discussing the emergence of “Houses.”
The culture extends beyond the extravagant events as many participants in ball culture also belong to groups known as “houses,” a longstanding tradition in LGBT communities, and racial minorities, where chosen families of friends live in households together, forming relationships and community to replace families of origin from which they may be estranged.Wikipedia
Paris Dupree, whom the song is named after, was the founding member and mother of the House of Dupree, which mobilized young, urban gays to express themselves in ways that mainstream America could not quite understand in the 1970s. He is also credited to be an originator to the vogue dance movement, vogueing being the imitation of models in magazines and runways.
Here is an excellent video explaining the concepts to learn more about Houses and a House Mother or Father.
2. Vogue, Madonna
Not only is the song an instant, timeless classic, but it also holds an immediate association with Ball culture, the music designed for the catwalk.
3. The Girl Is Mine (featuring Destiny’s Child & Brandy), 99 Souls
A one-hit wonder and throwback, people will recognize the remixed voices of Destiny’s Child and Brandy. Beyonce, once part of Destiny’s Child, holds particular relevance to Ball culture.
Now that we have a potential music selection, let’s move to the possible categories.
The following list is non-exhaustive and here for suggestion only. As a Facilitator, you are welcome to design your selection to suit what character, emotions, and body parts you want participants to focus on. In the session I attended this week, the following categories were experienced:
- Man — exaggerate masculine traits.
- Woman — exaggerate female traits.
- Sex siren.
- An important business person — who owns the space.
- VIP feminine.
- VIP masculine.
- Anger masculine.
- Anger feminine.
- Afraid in current gender.
- Afraid masculine.
- Sensual as current self.
- Sensual feminine.
- Sensual masculine.
- Super attractive.
At the end of the playlist and catwalk performance, the Facilitator asks participants to walk it off, shake off their character,s and return to their chair or screens.
To conclude the exercise, ensure a debrief, engaging in discussion to understand the impact on participants. Facilitators, here are some powerful questions to use as a guide.
- How did you feel entering into the exercise? Did you experience any resistance?
- What constricts and what opens up in your body?
- What felt at ease for you?
- What stirred up for you?
- What are your reflections?
- Please think of the following areas that affect how we view our gender: parents/upbringing, culture, age, and stage of life. Did any memories or considerations emerge for you?
- What different body parts did you notice the most when you switched personas? An example is how we use our hips or shoulders when we moved from feminine to masculine or use the chest popping in and out.
- For people who are a mixed-race culture (for example: Canadian or Amerian with a Latin background), did you notice an emergence or expression from your country of origin or subtleties on how you responded to the music between the two?
- What is this like to try and be androgynous— possessing both masculine and feminine characteristics.
Take The Exercise One Step Further
If time permits, either in person or online, Facilitators can pair people into groups of two and request participants performative walks for one another, followed by a more intimate, collaborative discussion. The intent is to go deeper in the small grouper, unearthing personal realizations about the self.
Ball culture is fascinating and exhilarating to watch. And the intent of the mini-scaled-down version of the exercise is from a psychotherapeutic perspective of encouraging people to explore the multi-dimensions of their gender by feeling the body’s response in a safe environment. I hope the exercise enlightens and delights you — as much as it did me.
- Wikipedia — Ball Culture
- The Atlantic — In the Kiki Ballroom Scene, Queer Kids of Color Can, Be Themselves
- Esquire — 24 Photos that Spotlight t, and rise of Ballroom and Drag Culture