Since ball culture is somewhat of an alien concept here in Scotland, I thought it best we give you all a bit of an insight before THE FIERCE RULING DIVAS BALL on Nov 13th!
Ball culture, the house system, the ballroom community and similar terms describe the underground LGBT subculture in the United States in which people "walk" (i.e. compete) for trophies and prizes at events known as balls. Those who walk often also dance and vogue while others compete in various genres of drag often trying to pass as a specific gender and social class. Most people involved with ball culture belong to "houses" led by a single leader.
"Houses", also called "drag houses" or "drag families", are groups composed primarily of transgender people, the majority of which are African American or Latino, banded together under a respected "house mother" (sometimes a drag queen or a transgender person, but not always) or even a "house father".
The best known houses are New York City groups, especially those such as the House of Corey, the House of LaBeija, the House of Ninja, the House of Pendavis, the House of Garavani and House of Xtravaganza that were shown in the 1990 documentary film Paris Is Burning. Other houses function similarly in many United States but mainly focused in major cities on the East Coast, in the Midwest and South (i.e. House Of Infiniti , House of Mizrahi, House of Aviance, etc.)
According to the Village Voice:
...houses are loose-knit, typically same sex, confederacies of "children" who adopt a family name, usually swiped from a fashion designer, and adhere to rules set up by a presiding "mother" and "father."
Members of the house led by Willi Ninja, for example, adopt "Ninja" as their surname within ball culture, members of the house led by Anji Xtravaganza used the surname "Xtravaganza" and members of the house led by Avis Pendavis used the surname Pendavis such as Deborah, Kim, and Freddy and so on.
One theme discussed in Paris Is Burning is that people of color, queers, and poor people face certain disadvantages and are each a marginalized group; to qualify as all three makes one a pariah. In response, drag houses are:
...a whole new way of living, one that's highly structured and self-protective. The structure consists of system of houses where the young men function as apprentices. Reflecting a minority coping with hatred, the houses are associations of friends, presided over by a "mother," [...] that provide a substitute for biological families.
Under the house parents are:
...a big raucous band of "children": drag queens, butch queens, transsexuals - mostly MTF but some FTM, a few non-trans girls and one or two straight guys. The smattering of girls and straight guys notwithstanding, the houses are, essentially, cabals of young black and Hispanic men obsessed with being fashionable and fabulous.
House parents can provide wisdom, guidance and care for young people who otherwise might be homeless and without a parental figure. An exploratory study of two houses in Newark, New Jersey employed qualitative research methods including participant observation and in-depth interviewing to discern that:
Strategies employed by "house parents" have had an impact on the choices made by children of the houses regarding HIV risk behaviors. These strategies can be adapted for use by well-established community-based HIV prevention programs when they are comprised of staff who mirror the characteristics of "house parents" and engage in relationships that parallel this alternative family structure.
Besides providing a support system for its members, the main function of these houses is to "walk" or compete against one another in "balls" in which they are judged on dance skills, costume, general appearance, and attitude. Participants dress according to category in which they are competing and are expected to display appropriate "realness".
Dominated today by contemporary hip hop fashion and featuring much hip hop music, these events are actually part of a vivacious and ever-changing culture and are:
...a tradition dating back to the 19th century and going strong into the 21st. Balls continue to be held at bars or Masonic halls or other improbable venues. Across the country and throughout the five boroughs legends are still being born.
While these competitive walks may involve crossdressing, in other cases the goal is to accentuate a male participant's masculinity or a female participant's femininity so as to give the (almost always false) impression that the walker is heterosexual.
Taken from Wikipedia.