HOWARD PHILIPS SMITH
 

An Untold story of a powerful mardi gras tradition. and its sister festival Southern decadence.

 

The joyous, chaotic Carnival season distinguishes New Orleans from all other American cities and particularly those with gay communities.

New Orleans gays use this time of year to show the rest of America just how wondrous their city can be. Although bedlam and wholesale cavorting are reserved for Mardi Gras day, the true glory of Carnival is represented in the more than two hundred balls that take place between Epiphany and Shrove Tuesday. Some balls are considered low class; others are highly exclusive. The gay balls of New Orleans are even more elite than those given in straight society. It is not unusual to see a member of Comus go begging for a ticket to a gay tableau.

 
 

MEANWHILE, WELCOME JOY AND FEAST, MIDNIGHT SHOUT AND REVELRY, TIPSY DANCE AND JOLLITY.

 
 

Whereas some straight krewes have more than two hundred members, gay carnival organizations are small—under fifty members—and limit the number of guests to fewer than a thousand. The preparations are more arduous, the costumes more fanciful and refined, and the tableau more imaginative for the gay balls, where themes and decorations are jealously kept secrets.

The special experience of going to a gay Mardi Gras ball, it is said, is only exceeded by actually participating in one.

 
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