The Ballroom Legends Who Helped Ryan Murphy’s “Pose” Get 10s Across the Board

Nearly 30 years ago, Paris is Burning hit theaters, and the world of ballroom expanded beyond the underground and into the forefront of queer culture for the first time. Today, the fashion, voguing, and energy of that iconic ‘80s scene have all come back to life through Ryan Murphy’s new FX series, Pose.

To maintain the legacy and historic truth of this iconic era, Murphy went straight to the source, recruiting several ballroom consultants to help keep the series accurate and true to life. These include Grandfather Hector Xtravaganza, Jack Mizrahi, Deja Smith, Jonovia Chase, Mila Khalevich and Twiggy Pucci Garçon — ballroom icons, legends and changemakers, without whom ballroom as we know it wouldn’t exist.

“It’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Grandfather Hector Xtravaganza. As a founding member of the legendary House of Xtravaganza, Hector has seen it all, from the HIV/AIDS crisis to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Clinton years to our recent era of marriage equality.

Those incremental steps toward LGBTQ+ progress have given way to our present moment, as the world focuses more of its attention on trans lives, even though trans people have always been part of the larger queer narrative. And with Pose, for the first time ever, a network TV series stars five trans women of color. That authenticity of casting has made the series resonate, not just for viewers at home but also those working behind the scenes. Pose consultant and makeup artist Deja Smith, also known as the Lady Deja Davenport, recalls her upbringing in a Long Island working class family, as she saw practically no LGBTQ+ folks around her.

“There were a few, but they were highly ostracized,” Smith says. One night while home alone, she watched Paris is Burning, and she says that instantly, she felt seen. “I knew there were other people like me, and I was determined to find them,” she says. Previously working as a personal makeup artist to stars such as Laverne Cox, Smith now works as a Co-Background Department Head for Pose. “Fast forward a few years, here we are. It’s a full circle moment.”

Set decorator Mila Khalevich also finds herself coming full circle with Pose. While wrapping for The Americans, Khalevich asked FX producers if the sets could be donated. They told her about a new show called Pose. “I was like, ‘You mean like vogue pose?’ I used to walk the Xtravaganza balls! I used to represent the House of LaBeija, and they went bananas.” She remembers ballroom being a formative space for her high school years, but she never imagined it would come back in her professional life. “It really molded me into who I am now, and I didn’t even make that connection.”

Now she brings her skills as a set decorator to the TV screen. “A lot of what I remember, it was the energy. We wanted that to come through in the sets,” says Khalevich. Coordinating the ballroom scenes required a lot of attention to detail, and that means all hands on deck. One of those hands was Paris is Burning star Freddie Pendavis.

“Some of the background players look like people from Paris is Burning,” says Pendavis. “In a sense, it’s like they’re given a second life.” Pendavis, like Hector Xtravaganza, helped to ensure historical accuracy for Pose, including by adding input to fashion choices. “It’s chaos in control. We know what we want,” says Pendavis. “The fashion isn’t just the look. We go for both the look and the fit.”

Their hard work shows in each episode, made more impressive by the fact that for many of the show’s consultants, Pose marks the first time they’ve worked in Hollywood. “How can you expect people to have experience when they were never given the opportunity of experience?” says ballroom icon Jack Mizrahi. Make-up artists, event planners, singers, choreographers, and more are all prevalent in the scene, and Mizrahi is grateful to see them all exercising their talents on a large platform. “When I turn around to see Jacob Prodigy doing touch-ups or Leiomy, whom I’ve raised, on set doing chorero, or Jonovia becoming a producer that everyone relates to, it’s like, let this not be the only time we get this chance.”

Pose is a movement,” says Assistant producer Jonovia Chase. “It’s very rare that you see something that is intentionally structured to help the community… It’s more than a show. It’s more than entertainment. It’s about changing folks’ lives.” From the writers’ room to production to the screen, the ballroom community is reflected genuinely and with care. “It’s a conglomerate of beautiful souls.” Overflowing with members of the community, Chase calls the set a family full of support at every turn.

“Affirming, celebratory, surreal… when I’m on set there’s just so much love,” says Twiggy Pucci Garçon, consultant and creator of the ballroom documentary Kiki. “Because I’ve been a part of ballroom from such a young age, I really needed to see myself.” Garçon hopes that anyone else watching the show sees themselves in the characters. “When we center the voices of marginalized peoples, everyone gets what they need. There’s so much to learn.”

While the show awaits a second season renewal, critical acclaim from the likes of Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly affirms the scale of the show’s cultural influence. “I’m not into numbers. I’m into impact,” says Chase. “No matter where this show goes, it will have an impact on the entire world.” The ballroom community of the past, present, and future finally sees sincere representation with Pose.

“With Ryan Murphy, how am I going to say no?” says Hector Xtravaganza. “That’s the best decision I’ve made in my life… I wouldn’t have let this go for anything. Like my grandmother always said, if a door closes, liquify yourself and ooze your way in.”

Source



Founders

  • http://www.hops.org.mk/
  • http://www.hera.org.mk/
  • http://www.egal.org.mk/
  • http://starsexwork.org/?lang=en
  • http://www.izborsr.com/

Donors

  • Фондација отворено општество
  • Фондација отворено општество
  • Фондација отворено општество - Македонија
  • Sexual Health and Rights & Public Health Program

Newsletter


If you wish to receive our newsletter, sign up here

Top