When Madonna released the song “Vogue” in 1990, voguing, the dance featured in the infamous music video, was already a decades-long culture cornerstone in New York’s LGTBQ communities. Madonna herself was inspired by the “House Ball” community in Harlem and the choreographers, Jose Gutierez Extravangaza and Luis Extravaganza, who introduced her to the dance at the Sound Factory Club.
Voguing originated in Harlem, which has been an enclave for distinct LGBTQ arts, culture, and activism since the Harlem Renaissance. Voguing, named after the famous glossy magazine, featured poses inspired by high fashion and Egyptian art.
In the early 1960s, drag competitions, also known as “balls,” transformed into vogue battles. Dressed in extravagant clothes and makeup, contestants competed for trophies and reputation for their respective “houses” — essentially a surrogate family.
Voguing isn’t just dramatic or exaggerated movements. It’s a performance that deconstructs gender and can also be used to settle disputes among rivals. Despite the camaraderie and community that is bonded by these balls, there is still an air of intense competition.
The Category is…
The iconic documentary “Paris Is Burning” gave mainstream audiences a portal to the world of New York ballroom culture’s most influential voguers and choreographers, many of whom were poor, homeless, or battling HIV/AIDS and had to sue in order to be paid for their appearances in the film. The documentary, while groundbreaking, is one instance, in a long list of examples, in which marginalized people are exploited for their talents without proper pay or recognition.
The voguers in the film were working-class, poor, and/or sex workers. But despite the issues of exploitation, the documentary portrayed the vast opportunities available in the world of ballroom and allowed Black and Brown LGBTQ community members to step into the spotlight and live in their truth for audiences that had never been exposed to the rich subculture of ballroom.
Competition is Fierce
In HBO Max’s first unscripted show, “Legendary,” voguing enters the mainstream. While shows like Ryan Murphy’s “Pose” and “Paris Is Burning“ put vogueing into the public sphere, this competition show further validates vogueing as an art form that deserved to be studied.
Vogue houses compete in a series of battles for a $100,000 cash prize. Dashaun Wesley is the host and MC with judges Leiomy Maldonado (“Pose“), Jameela Jamil (“The Good Place”), Law Roach (“America’s Next Top Model“), and Grammy-winning, chart-topper Megan Thee Stallion.
With two seasons under its belt, the hit show has been confirmed for a third season. In an interview with GAY TIMES, Wesley says he hopes that shows like “Legendary” and “Pose” can continue to drive the conversation surrounding ballroom culture.
“Moving forward I want [Legendary and Pose] to let everyone in the world know that this is a community that has been around for so long,” Wesley said. “For so many years people never knew about us. We’ve been existing for years and years and years and now we have the opportunity to represent ourselves. I feel like “Legendary” and “Pose” now present a space for more shows to come.”
Continuing in his interview, Wesley said hopes that networks become more open to featuring shows that center on LGBTQ narratives and characters.
“It presents more platforms for shows who are part of our culture and our scenes to move on and be better and great,” he said. “I’m hoping that even more shows come about this and more stories are being told.”