'Dance of the Forty One': Scandalous Mexican drag ball in 1901 at secret club inspired Netflix LGBTQ film
The ball got its name after the '42nd guest' reportedly managed to escape all punishment because he was the then-President's son-in-law
Netflix will premiere the movie 'Dance of the Forty One' worldwide on May 12, 2021. Centered around the 19th-century scandal that rocked Mexican high society, the summary of the movie reads, "A gay congressman marries the Mexican president's daughter but cavorts with a young man at a secret club. And then scandal hits. Based on a true story."
Netflix is paying tribute to the 1901 ball that cast a bright light on Mexico's LGBTQ community. Continue reading for a deep dive into what happened that fateful night in a house that stood in the modern-day Tabacalera neighborhood.
The number '41' had a secret meaning in Mexico courtesy of an underground queer ball that took place on November 17, 1901. The number has been seen as taboo and at one point, hotels and hospital rooms didn't use it. Some people even skipped their 41st birthday altogether, and the army left the number out of their battalions. All this because of the secret party that uncovered Mexico's LGBTQ scene.
On that night, 42 men had gathered at the house which once stood in the modern-day Tabacalera neighborhood. During the ball, 42 men out of which 19 were in drag mingled, danced, and according to catchpenny news reports, these men entered the competition to win an encounter with a young man who has only been identified as 'Curly Moustache'.
Someone tipped off the police about this ball and they showed up in the early hours of the morning to stop the "show of gross indecency". Escape attempts were made by a number of attendees but none of them were successful. All 42 men were detained by the police. Then why is this momentous event known as 'The Ball of the 41'?
The Ball of the 41
The ball was referred to as the "transvestite ball" by sensational reports. The names of the attendees who were arrested were never revealed because they came from the upper echelons of Mexican society. The ball gets its name after the "42nd guest" who reportedly managed to escape all punishment because he was the then-President's son-in-law.
The 42nd participant was believed to be Ignacio de la Torre y Mier, the son-in-law of President Díaz. However, there are no sources that have been able to confirm this bit of information. The other men who were caught hadn't broken any rules or committed a crime because there was no law that outlined what was unacceptable clothing for men.
However, among the people in the know about this event and its details, there was growing distress. Homosexuality was looked down upon and to appease the offended, Governor Ramón Corral authorized their punishment because there was no way they could be put to trial in the court of law.
As part of their conviction, these men were taken to jail. The ones who were caught in women's clothing were asked to sweep the street in the attire. Later on, all of them were shipped to the state of Yucatan to assist the military against the Mayans. They weren't allowed to take up arms but were recruited to carry out servile tasks like digging trenches, cleaning the toilets, and sweeping floors.
By 1920, several public figures in the country began to openly identify as homosexuals. The Ball of the 41 and the ones who were arrested have deeply contributed to LGBTQ visibility and pride. Mexico became the first Latin American jurisdiction to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009, six years before the U.S legalized marriage equality in 2015. Also, the number 41 which was once considered a pejorative term is now a badge of courage and symbolizes strength for queer Mexicans.
'Dance of the Forty One' will air worldwide on Netflix on May 12.