Paris is Burning 9NC)

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The Independent Culture

In 1990, when Madonna had a hit with "Vogue", her millions of fans will have had a vague notion that the song was inspired by a dance fad. The origins of that fad, among many other things, are explored in Paris is Burning, a poignant documentary, also from 1990, about the "balls" at the hub of New York's black and Latino gay scene. In essence, balls were fancy dress parties, but in stark contrast with the drag stereotype, most of the participants didn't want to stand out from the crowd by dint of their spangled fabulousness. They wanted to blend in.

Some of the "children", as they were called, dressed as women, but others simply wore executive suits or military uniforms: their wildest fantasy was to taste the conventional, middle-class life which magazines had promised them and America had denied them. Marks were given for "realness", and no one left a ball without a trophy. "If everybody went to balls and took less drugs," remarks one drag queen, "it would be a fun world, wouldn't it?" Fun, yes, but also heartbreaking.

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