The UWM Drag Show (also known as the “Drag Ball” although not at all a ballroom style show) has been a staple at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee for over 20 years. The show has continually ranked as one of the largest drag performances in the Midwest and as one of the largest on-campus events at UWM – even making it to #19 on the UWM Bucket List.
The 2019 UWM Annual Drag Show will take place on Saturday, February 23th, 2019 at the Miller High Life Theatre.
The contemporary drag ball scene has its roots in the late 19th century. During the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, masquerade balls attended by thousands took place regularly at venues such as the Rockland Palace and the Savoy Ballroom, with prizes awarded for the best costumes.The New York drag ball scene enjoyed a revival in the 1970s, and reached the height of its popularity in the late 1980s. This era witnessed the creation of legendary “houses” such as Dupree, LaBeija, Omni, and Xtravaganza. Ball houses featured a Mother and Father who looked after the welfare of numerous children. Houses often served as substitute families for young gay men and transgender people who had been rejected by their families of origin.
Typically held late at night in community centers, hotel ballrooms, or nightclubs, drag balls offered contestants an opportunity to “walk,” or compete, in a wide range of categories. While drag queens traditionally portrayed divas of the silver screen, younger aficionados turned to television characters and supermodels as role models. By the 1980s, competitions expanded beyond female impersonation to include all manner of feminine and masculine costuming as well as male impersonation – including military and executive wear – illustrating that drag could be as much about race and class as it was about gender.
In addition to costuming and style, participants were also judged on the quality of their “voguing,” a dance form that incorporates the stylized poses of fashion models along with elements borrowed from mime, gymnastics, and martial arts.
While the ball scene’s moment in the spotlight was brief, ball culture continues to thrive, as portrayed in the more recent documentary Kiki (2016). Continuing in the tradition of providing support for LGBT+ youth, the ball community has embraced fundraising and HIV prevention, spawning organizations such as the House of Latex (founded by Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1989).
In the wake of films such as Paris Is Burning (1990), the ball scene prompted much discussion among academics and activists about drag, gender, the nature of identity, and mainstream appropriation of marginalized subcultures.
Drag performers have been involved in LGBTQ+ advocacy since the early days of the LGBTQ+ movement. It was drag performers who provided leadership at the famous Compton’s Cafeteria demonstration in 1967 and who threw the first stone (or shoe by some accounts) at the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. Drag culture today has its roots in the drag ball scene, which focused primarily on the building of community between LGBTQ+ identified people of color and empowering and supporting LGBTQ+ youth of color.
A total of $1,300 in tips were given to two great Milwaukee organizations in 2017- thank you!
We are very excited to announce that this year’s tips for performers will be split and donated to Project Q, the youth program at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, and Pathfinders Milwaukee, helping LGBT+ homeless youth! Each organization will also have their own performers performing a special act raising money for their charities, so don’t forget your bills for donating during the show! In addition, we are collecting donations at the door of the event to go toward our center and offsetting the cost of the show.
— Thank you to all of our fabulous sponsors: Campus Activities Board, UWM LGBT Resource Center, UWM Student Association, and UWM University Housing.