Press "Enter" to skip to content
A Bi-College News photograph of Haverford students at the seventh annual Drag Ball in 2005. Image courtesy of TriCollege Libraries Digital Collections.

Drag Ball Returns to Haverford

On the evening of Friday, May 3rd, the Bi-Co community will see the return of the beloved Drag Ball, an campus event historically cherished for its celebration of creativity, self-expression, and challenging of gender norms. Taking place in Founders Hall during Haverfest, this year’s installment promises an evening of dazzling performances, exciting activities, and a celebration of community, creativity, and identity. 

In addition to a series of professional drag performances, Drag Ball 2024 will feature a lip sync competition, student performers, and a photobooth. Drag Ball Quizzo, which was initially scheduled for the evening of April 26th but canceled due to the temporary encampment during Board of Managers weekend on Founders Green, will also take place during the performance. 

The event will be DJed by Sakura Ryoko, an EDM music producer and artist based in Allentown, PA and will feature performances from three professional drag performers, curated to highlight BIPOC talent from the Philadelphia and New York areas: Cherry Jaymes, a Brooklyn-based queen; Mz. Peaches, a Philadelphia-based queen with nearly ten years experience; and VinChelle, the co-owner of Big Wig Brunch with LiveNation. VinChelle was also awarded “Best Hostess” and “Drag Queen of the Year” at the 2017 Philly Drag Awards and was featured in Philadelphia magazine’s 2023 edition of “Best of Philly.” 

The vibrant culture of drag balls and voguing can be traced back to the late 19th century, with the first recorded drag ball in US history held in Harlem in 1869 at the Hamilton Lodge. Despite facing increased whitewashing, the art form found new vitality with the founding of the House of LaBeija in 1972, which provided a vital support network for performers of color. 

Voguing emerged from the underground ballroom scene of Harlem in the 1970s, gaining mainstream recognition through Madonna’s hit single “Vogue” in 1990 and the documentary Paris is Burning. Despite the devastation wrought by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, drag ball culture persevered, epitomized by events like the Latex Ball, which offered both expression and support for the community. 

In Philadelphia, ballroom culture flourished with events like the Onyx Ball in 1989 and the Dorian Corey Awards Ball in 1995, showcasing the city’s vibrant scene. Alvernian Prestige, a pillar of the Philadelphia ballroom community, remains a historian and advocate, preserving the legacy for new generations. Today, Philly’s ballroom scene continues to thrive, celebrated in documentaries and murals like “Finally on 13th.”

Drag and ballroom culture also has deep roots within the Bi-Co, and are heavily based around student organization. Before Drag Ball was an annual event in the Bi-Co, queer students and affinity groups on both campuses such as the Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Alliance (BGALA) and Gay People’s Alliance (GPA) threw parties and dances as far back as the mid-70s. The first official Drag Ball was hosted in 1998 at the Bryn Mawr Campus center by the Bi-Co Rainbow Alliance. Following the inaugural event, Drag Ball became an annual, student-organized fixture, eventually becoming “one of the most anticipated and widely-attended campus functions.” Despite this, the tradition slowed in the 2010s, and fully stopped in 2015 for unknown reasons. 

New leadership launched the tradition back into action. “When Sayeeda [Rashid] came in as the Director of the GRASE Center … they worked on an archives project” explained Katie (kt) Tedesco, Director of the Center for Gender Resources and Sexuality Equity (GRASE). “One of the things they learned in the process was that drag has a long history in the Bi-Co, and they wanted to bring [the Drag Ball] back.”

The Spring 2022 Drag Ball was a success with approximately 200 people in attendance. Despite the popularity of the event, there was not a ball during the 2022-2023 academic year.This year’s installment of the tradition was meticulously organized by a dedicated team of two employees, one alum, and twelve students working under the guidance of Tedesco.

Promotional graphic for the 2024 Haverford College Drag Ball. Image courtesy of Haverford College Drag Ball on Instagram (@hcdragball).

Tedesco emphasized the importance of community involvement in making Drag Ball possible. “It’s been a partnership effort. We would not have been able to have the Drag Ball without the funds and energy of many offices on campus,” referencing the support of the Race and Ethnicity Education Office (REEO), Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA), Student Diversity, Equity, and Access (SDEA), and the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities.

“The vision was to make sure that as many voices as possible were a part of planning,” said Tedesco, emphasizing her desire to honor the origins of drag and ballroom culture in BIPOC trans and queer communities. “But it’s always been in  the hands of the students, and it should continue to be that way.”

Keeping in Tedesco’s desire for student involvement, the event will be co-MC’d by two Haverford community members: Alumna Marisol Vibraciòn ’18 and Leo Brainard ’27, as their drag personas MARISOL and Robyn Banx, respectively. 

Vibraciòn expressed her intention to extend the celebration of Drag Ball beyond current Bi-Co students. “I’ve been talking a lot with my fellow alums … they gave me the idea of setting up my phone on a tripod to livestream it, so that alums can tune in as well. I’m really excited about that. We’ll have multiple generations of Haverford alums tuned into this.” 

Vibraciòn emphasized her decision to co-MC was heavily due to the fact that Haverford is an important aspect of her drag journey. “My drag persona was born on campus. My first drag show was my senior year, and Haverford funded it,” she shared. “I hope that [Drag Ball] encourages folks who are interested in the ballroom scene and vogue to actually go seek that out from ballroom community members. I taught myself on YouTube when I was a student, and then I went out to learn from legends to get to where I’m at.” 

Brainard similarly expressed hopes that Drag Ball will introduce many to the world of drag for the first time: “I hope it encourages people to become involved with local drag scenes, especially since we’re having Philly queens here,” he said. “I hope it introduces some people that drag and encourages people to get out there.”

Vibraciòn also emphasized the significance of the event in the context of campus and world events. “I hope that the show brings a breath of fresh air at the end of a very heavy year,” she said. “And I hope it illustrates to people that drag is political activism, at the end of the day.”

Special thanks kt Tedesco and the 2024 Drag Ball Planning Committee for supplying archival materials crucial to the creation of this article.

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.