Viral TikTok dancers discuss Vogue and ballroom history

“The ballroom is about family. It’s about happiness. That’s all,” says 16-year-old Nevaeh Autumn Seventeen. If you don’t know her name, you’ve most likely seen a video or two of Nevaeh and her friends cruising through their performing arts high school in New York City. With over 28.1 million likes on TikTok and her most popular video garnering over 21.7 million views, Nevaeh and her seven friends all believe in celebrating the ballroom scene, where voguing has started with a road paved by its LGBTQ+ founders.

For the queer community, the ballroom scene is more than the glitz and glamor of rhythmic house music tracks, jaw-dropping spins and dips, and precise hands or floor work. It is a home, a center of love and support that serves as a sanctuary for those in need. Proms are social gatherings within the LGBTQ+ community where categorized dance routines and flawless runway walks are performed and judged by a jury.

According History.com, Harlem’s Hamilton Lodge No. 710 hosted regular drag balls as early as the post-Civil War era. These underground events grew in popularity during the Harlem Renaissance and even more so with the emergence of the House ballroom in the early 1970s. Then and now, the Houses serve as chosen families and provide counseling, l acceptance and love to many people who are often ostracized because of their sexuality and/or gender identity.

Exposure to the ballroom scene through shows like FX Laid and HBO Max Legendary inspires young queers like Diego, one of Nevaeh’s fellow dancers and the only LGBTQ+ person in their videos, to be themselves. “Legendary and Laid definitely influenced my style by making me feel freer. “While he usually wore ‘ordinary clothes,’ Diego says he’s changed it up and proudly wears bell bottoms and crop tops. “I feel more comfortable with skin on because, for to push yourself and succeed in the ballroom scene, you have to be confident.”

It’s more than dancing for Nevaeh, Diego, their friends Maya, CeCe, Tati, Gabby, Natalia and their video director Alyssa. They know their business. Each member of this team can recite the five elements of Vogue Femme (catwalk, hands, spins and dips, duckwalk and floor performance) like clockwork. They’re even working to hone their skills by taking vogue classes hosted by House ballroom stars, making it clear that their interest in the scene goes beyond what viewers see on TikTok. This team is dedicated to celebrating, not appropriating, the community they have come to know and love.

While TikToks like Neveah’s MoanaBih and Instagram accounts like Best Of Vogue and Old School Ballroom make it easy to find up-and-coming names and pay tribute to veterans who paved the way, accessing the ballroom community hasn’t. always been so easy. According Laid LGBTQ+ choreographer, creator and advocate, and track killer Twiggy Pucci Boy (which uses she/they pronouns), “the ballroom was significantly underground” when it first hit the scene in 2004. Although ‘She was disqualified, aka “chopped,” in their first ballroom after friends unknowingly entered Twiggy into a more advanced category, she’s scored dozens at every level since. As a track choreographer on Laidco-author of Kiki, and newly minted documentary filmmaker, Twiggy works diligently to ensure the LGBTQ+ community is accurately represented.

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While the ballroom has had “cycles in and out of the mainstream,” Twiggy encourages anyone interested in the scene to go beyond social media engagement and make research. “Find out the history of the ballroom, why it exists, who created it, and who it is for,” advises Twiggy. “The ballroom chooses its people. There was one person who saw something in me that brought me in, and that’s usually how it is. If the ballroom calls you, you’ll know if you’re called or if you must stay in your place and admire it.”

Admiring the scene also means acknowledging the trends it has set in pop culture and giving the community its due. Most of the makeup we love, the hairstyles we love, and the language we use come from the LGBTQ+ community and the ballroom scene. If you’ve ever “read” someone for dirt, “thrown shade”, or said “it gives a lot”, then you have unknowingly participated in the culture cultivated by the LGBTQ+ and ballroom communities. .

As technology advances, so does the ballroom. Content like Neveah’s TikTok videos and series like HBO’s Legendary only scratches the surface of what’s next for the ballroom. Meta created a Metaverse cultural series where he debuted Dream House, an immersive virtual reality space curated by a wide range of leaders and creators from the LGBTQ+ community.

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Metaverse Culture Series: Pride Unbound

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Legendary judge and literal Ballroom legend Leiomy Maldonado shared with Seventeen about her experience in the ballroom during an interview at the Dream House. Founder of the House of Amazon, Leiomy, aka Vogue’s Wonder Woman, changed the game when she ushered in her infamous dramatic vogue style in the early 2000s.

“Through voguing, I learned to be myself. I learned to love my flaws as well as my gifts,” says Leiomy. “I was able to tap into emotions that I didn’t know how to express verbally, especially as a young teenager transitioning at a young age, not knowing the journey itself and not having much research behind it. ‘era.”

With access to more information and support readily available, Leiomy is eager to explore and reinvent ballroom culture and its traditions in innovative ways. “I’m excited to host an event or a dance class to teach people how to vogue in the metaverse. It’s a fun place to be,” she says. “You can be whoever you want to be in this metaverse. It’s a way to bring together a lot of people who might not be open to being social in person or people who are shy and feel like they don’t have their place in the world.The Metaverse is a place where they can feel more comfortable expressing themselves through movement.

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As more and more people find their way to the online community, the ballroom message is still translating to IRL as well. “The Ballroom has something to say to the world, and it has a lot to teach the world about self-esteem, self-expression, community organizing, gender, sexuality, art and culture. design, performance, healing and justice,” says Twiggy. Luckily for all of us, social media has given us a front row seat to what lies ahead. “In my perfect world, I see a ballroom that can sustain itself in any way it wants for itself,” she adds. “I’d like to see a ballroom with intentionality and with resources sustaining itself in a way that moves in and out of any space, whether in and out of the underground, in and out of the mainstream, off and on the television screen, however, whichever direction he wants to go is by mutual agreement and self-contained.”

Parts of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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