Soto, J. I. (2022). “They’re Never Gonna Know the Real Ballroom”: Mainstream Culture, the Ballroom Scene, and a Social Politics of Liberation. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.14418/wes01.1.2581
The ballroom scene is a Black/Latinx LGBTQ+ subculture that emerged in New York City during the 1960s. The ballroom scene serves as a space of refuge for its members who continue to struggle, survive, and find community amidst the material realities of their lives. Throughout the turn of the twentieth century and on, various films and TV shows have shed a light on the “underground” ballroom scene, and the overt presence of ballroom in mainstream culture has evolved since Paris is Burning (1990). Members of the scene have influenced mainstream culture, with many not getting the adequate compensation or credit that was deserved. This thesis interrogates the entanglement between ballroom’s ascendance into mainstream culture and the coercive elements of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. I argue that the evolution of ballroom’s overt presence in mainstream media shifts the way that members of the scene engage with notions of social mobility, intracommunal tensions, representation politics, and generational change. Through qualitative research, observation, and interviews with various members of the scene, this thesis highlights the tension that arises when a subculture is commercialized. Utilizing queer of color critique, trans feminist thought, and Black Marxist theory as my theoretical framework, this project hopes to construct a critical approach to how both members and non-members of the scene engage with new forms of representation and new opportunities that were previously unthinkable. Unlike previous studies of the ballroom scene that have discussed representation and/or social mobility, arguably within neoliberal reformist frameworks, my project bends toward a more liberatory approach to understand and uncover the dynamics of people in and outside of the scene.