Ballroom

26.01.12, Words by: Charlie Jones

Ballroom – the music of underground gay dance contests – is finally hitting these shores. Those involved in scene today refer to the time depicted in the 1989 documentary Paris Is Burning as ‘the old way’, when tracks such as Larry Levan’s mix of Love Is The Message, Salsoul Orchestra’s Ooh I Love It (Love Break) and Cheryl Lynn Got To Be Real were popular choices for ball DJs. Competitors would compete in categories such as femme, butch, fashion model and realness, walking down a catwalk in the middle of the ball, flaunting moves, looks, style and straight-up fierceness. Dancers still compete today, but the dance moves have evolved – the graceful posing and face-framing of made famous by Madonna’s Vogue have largely gone, replaced by body drops, floorwork and dramatic displays of flexibility that would make Olympic gymnasts weep. And the music’s moved on along with the moves. Faster, edgier and more percussive, tracks such as Masters at Work’s 1991 track The Ha Dance and Tronco Traxx’s Walk For Me [1998] are typical.

That’s not to say new ballroom beats aren’t being made. Mike Q is one of the east coast’s most in-demand producers and DJs, and as well as running his own label Qween Beat and constantly releasing his track and remixes online, he’s just put out a track on the Night Slugs’s US offshoot Fade To Mind. The choppy, loopy beats he makes perfectly complement the sound of London labels like Night Slugs, fitting in perfectly with the city’s post-this and future-that, beat-and-vibe driven dancefloors.

MikeQ – Down & Out by DJMikeQ

London promoters Fools and Rushmore are also big fans of ballroom and the Mike Q sound, having booked him for their inaugural House of Trax party, held in Stoke Newington earlier this month.

The other ballroom references are visible, if you’re looking – London house promoters and producers Legendary Children are named after the family culture associated with ballroom, and Dalston Superstore’s monthly night Paris Acid Ball celebrates all things ‘New York, Acid, House & Vogue with an East London twist Huneychild!!!!’. And that’s not even to mention the fully fledged balls held by South London gay disco stalwart’s Horsemeat Disco.