With its broad pillared exterior, the Peabody Library stood solemnly amongst the silent evening of the cobbled streets of Mount Vernon. However, upon entering its doors, I was instantly enveloped in a change in atmosphere – bright lights illuminated a crowd of tall, striking, fashionably dressed people mingling joyously in spirited conversation and hugs. Performance was blurred between the audience and the catwalk, making the whole space ethereal. The shining highlight of the night, however, was unmistakably the visuals. Ruffles of finely detailed fabric sparkled on the runway on bodies just as glimmering and stylish. Yet, as madison moore writes in Fabulous, the allure of the show was more than just the clothing itself, but rather “the sensuality, the opulence, and of course the attitude” (page 171) of the performers.
Behind every expressive garment was an even more expressive competitor bringing the outfit to life. Though there is no doubt that the Peabody Ball is intimidatingly well-executed in everything from the cutting-edge designs to graceful gaits, no sense of judgement or pretension radiated from a single person in the ballroom. The event, in every way, gushed with a sense of affection and kinship. Heartfelt speeches and the presentation of awards to dedicated ballroom figures reminded attendees of the true purpose of the ball in connecting the community behind it. The Peabody Ballroom Experience is a warm celebration of the rich culture and talents of Baltimore’s ballroom scene, as grand and historic as the library that hosts it.
As a student in Dr. Plaster’s undergraduate class, Queer Performativity, I got the valuable opportunity to be able to participate in the [April 15 Peabody] ball despite not being a member of the ballroom community myself. The experience I had at the ball put all the things I’ve learned in class about the history of ball and its transformative power for the queer community into perspective. We learned about Black queer history and the development of ballroom culture for three weeks before we attended the ball. Being able to see, listen, feel, and immerse myself in the performances that I had read about in class readings and only saw in YouTube videos prior to the ball helped shape my understanding of the beauty of ball culture, of people’s passion for it, and the work that goes into the development of queer of color worldmaking.
As Dr. Plaster recalled in his essay “The Category Is… Opulence!”, many ballroom members told him that commentators are the soul of the competitions. They narrate and control balls all over the cities, states, countries, and anywhere ball culture is presented. Commentators remember past balls, their categories, and who won what, and would encourage performers to re-enact or be inspired by a past performance, paying homage to the people that had come before and paved the way for the current ballroom culture.
This was especially clear in the ball that I attended, which intended to honor “trailblazers and blueprints – the ‘royalty’ – who paved the way for Baltimore’s ballroom scene.” In this ball, each category was designed to honor one or a few past Icons. Every time a category began, the screen on the stage would switch to videos of the icons’ performances and the commentators would either tell stories about them or recount their most memorable performances, and always commemorated the contributions that they had given to the Baltimore ballroom community, making sure that the audience and all those who were presented in the ball become a part of the network that preserve the history.