Ballroom and Language

Harlem’s role in the 1970’s ballroom scene and many other earlier iterations of trans expression, is well known. What may not be as well known are the linguistic contributions that originated in this musical/fashion/identity/dance scene.

1988: Drag ball in Harlem, New York City in 1988. © Catherine McGann

Slang words like “shade” — to speak ill of something or someone –- or “werk,” as in “werk it,” or to do something well, both came from this Harlem scene. In addition, popular trans programs and stars – like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” – have also been heavily impacted by Harlem ballroom.

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As Seen In East Harlem